An Open Letter to Those-Trying-to-Decide-on-Schools-Without-Visiting-Any-Schools
First of all, you’re doing amazing sweetie. The hardest part of applying to college is over, and you’ll never have to write another 250 word essay about how you possess “intellectual vitality.” That is not to say that deciding a college isn’t difficult, but you definitely have the resources to help you through the process. Just because you can’t make an on-campus visit doesn’t mean you can’t accomplish what you hoped to during the visit. Many financial aid offices have virtual hours and you could always call in. If you already developed a specific academic interest and were planning to visit that department, get in touch with a professor to see if you can sit in on a class or access a virtual tour of the department’s facilities. If you just wanted to see what walking around the campus is like, try using Google street view.
Wanted to get a sense of student social life and activities? Most extracurriculars have their own websites that are accessible through the main campus page. You can usually contact them directly on their site to ask any questions or to speak to a member. Also, depending on the type of extracurricular, you can scour the Internet for past videos of their concerts, performances, articles, games, or stock pitches. As for social life, there are plenty of student vloggers who have shared their experiences. And if finding the closest Trader Joe’s to campus happens to be what’s most important to you, this is also information you can acquire online. Plus, many universities are having their pre-frosh visiting programs over the Internet. Harvard, especially, is doing an outstanding job with recreating the on-campus experience through Virtual Visitas. So many people have put an incredible amount of work and effort into making it a valuable resource. Special events being held for prospective students include ones hosted by certain extracurriculars, departments, student panels, professor webinars, and even a CS50 puzzle day. Virtual Visitas can really help you consider Harvard in a fair light — because let’s be honest, no one actually commits to Harvard because of the in-person experience of eating a Veritaffle.
The main takeaway from an on-campus visit is the school’s vibe, and vibe is just a vague way to say people. After all, if you ask any alumni what their favorite part of college was, 99.9 percent of the time their response will be “the people” (yes, the same answer your interviewer likely gave you). To get a sense of what the people at a college are like, reach out to potential classmates. Join that Facebook group or GroupMe and see if these are the people you want to spend the next four years with. Current students are also more than happy to answer any questions you have, so go ahead and DM a few people! Make sure to get more than one person’s perspective; if the first person you talk to has a negative response, it might be because they’re stressing over finals. Still, many can give you an inside scoop and great reasons to attend — beyond the generic ones from College Confidential. Another solid way of meeting the student body is by listening to a more collective voice. Most universities have student publications and their own versions of The Crimson/Flyby Blog. Reading student pieces will help you get a sense of what student life is like, what matters to the people on that campus, and what they appreciate the most.
Still stressed? I decided between schools by flipping a coin. Before you roll your eyes and wonder how I got into Harvard, I did it because I knew that if the outcome was disappointing, I would simply choose the other school. It worked out pretty well for me; narrowing down a list to two schools usually isn’t that difficult, but deciding between those two (unless it’s between Havard and Yale) is often the true struggle. Grab a coin and try it out! If this doesn’t work for you and both sides of the coin look equally good, then the truth is both offers are amazing and you’ll find happiness at either school. Worst comes to worst, you can always take a gap year on your couch.
We hope to see you in the fall, Class of 2024!
Myself and everyone in Flyby