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College searching during normal times is tough and time consuming enough, and it’s further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic currently surging throughout the world. Many universities have closed their doors and are not allowing open tours anymore. How are you supposed to pick a school without seeing it? Luckily, many universities realized these issues and created additional online materials for students to use in order to aid their decision. 

The most common online resource to use are the universities’ websites. The vast majority have lists about their potential majors, different extracurricular activities available, course offerings, dining plans, dorm situations, and student life. Some websites also feature different faculty members and their accolades, research, and contributions to the university; if you know what field you want to go into, the professor spotlights can be very helpful. This enables you to learn more about which professors you’d be learning from and studying under at that university. Larger universities may also provide different webpages for each of their undergraduate colleges or schools, so looking at the page specific to the college you applied to can be very helpful. 

Additionally, on the universities’ websites, you can often find the contact information for your regional student admissions representative. In normal times, many high school students weren’t even aware they had a regional representative; I know I wasn’t until quite late in the college application process. However, they can be extremely helpful if you have specific questions. I’d suggest sending them an email that is as clear as possible, including details from your application file; if you have an application number, let your representative know what it is. Give them some context to who you are as a student and what you’re attempting to pursue in college, but also make sure to keep your introduction brief. Then, get into your questions. You can offer to chat over the phone or through email, whichever is easiest for your representative, as they’re quite busy people. It may take them a few weeks for them to respond, but when I was going through the college process, I found my representative was excited to chat with me and answer my questions. 

The third resource you can easily find are virtual tours of campus; some even have voice overs by campus tour guides! These can be super helpful to get a “feel” for the campus and see whether or not you could picture yourself there. Also, different universities (and sometimes different programs at different universities) often have social media pages. Scrolling through these is a quick and easy way to get a grasp on student life at that university, as well as checking out the weather throughout the year. 

Depending on your high school, your guidance counselors may also be able to chat with you about the university or connect you with some current students or alumni of the universities you’re interested in. Chatting with people who have firsthand experience as a student at the universities you’re considering is a huge advantage. They’ll often offer you a more honest perspective and may be more willing to chat about the downsides of studying there, in addition to the positives. 

The last big piece of helpful information is all of the old fashioned, paper materials that might have been mailed to you. If not, there’s lots of blogs and other information scattered across the internet. Skimming through the published materials about the university allows you to get a better view of how the university (and its students) choose to present themselves. Depending on the viewpoint the university chooses to share, it can give each university a unique reputation and display, which may help you decide if you could envision yourself there. 

High school seniors, best of luck trying to pick a college! I hope this article helps you all decide which college you think is the best fit for you, and you can always transfer if it doesn’t work out. Try not to stress too much and enjoy your research!

Katie Ryan

Columbia Barnard '24

Katie is an incoming first year at Columbia College. She's a coxswain for the men's heavyweight crew team and spends her free time working out, volunteering, and reading. Katie is planning to double major in English & Comparative Literature and Human Rights, specializing in Economics.
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