Updated: Apr 29
By Jacob Connell
The volume of changes that COVID-19 necessitated is staggering. People’s lives shifted rapidly and dramatically away from the social, face-to-face world that we were all used to. The education world, from preschool to graduate programs, has been adapting to the new restrictions that govern our world. I feel that more than most, the rising class of high school seniors (or anyone who is in the process of looking at and applying to college) has been adversely impacted by this pandemic. Under normal circumstances, searching for the perfect college is an incredibly involved process that provokes stress and uncertainty that also generates hope and excitement for the future. However, under these extraordinary circumstances, it is a process mired with a lack of connection and information. As such, I felt it might be helpful to suggest some guidance on how to approach this adjusted college application process.
Recognize the differences
There are many differences between the usual and new course of searching for the ideal college; however, I believe it is important for you to explicitly acknowledge some of the major differences. This allows you to better understand what information you are perhaps missing due to the circumstances and what other ways you might be able to gain that information.
For example, college campus tours are canceled, seemingly indefinitely. As a result, you can not develop an accurate feel for the physical properties of the campus, such as its size, proximity to surrounding areas, and the spread of the buildings. So, how will you learn this information? Maybe you have to take advantage of the virtual tours that some colleges are now offering. Or maybe next time you go on a walk, you pay special attention to the time it takes you to walk a certain distance and compare that to the size of the campus. Regardless of how you address the changes, simply recognizing the changes and analyzing them is crucial.
Take the extra step
Given the situation, it is imperative that you take the initiative in this process. You will need to actively seek out information because it will not come to you as easily as in the past. Explore the rabbit holes on colleges’ websites, email representatives, and contact current or former students. Read the student-run newspaper to better grasp the issues that the school grapples with. Watch university administrators give speeches to the student body in order to perceive the relationship between the administration and the students. Look up the performance schedule (surely thrown into disarray by now) of the school’s auditorium. Find out what kind of artists the school brings in for their spring concert. Everything you find is worth knowing, no matter how trivial it may seem, because it all speaks to the wider nature and culture of the school. Do not be afraid to dig deep and get specific. Be sure to keep the nuggets of information you discover organized; I suggest having a Google Doc for each university you consider. Remember, at the end of the day, it is better to know a ridiculous amount of facts about a school than it is to make an uninformed decision.
Ask yourself the hard questions
When I began looking at colleges, possibly the most helpful piece of advice I received was to ask myself questions. “Why am I going to college? What kind of relationships do I want to build there? How do I want to grow?” These types of questions are massively useful when navigating this process. That isn’t to say that you will have a solid answer to every question, but not knowing is just as revealing as an answer. That is also not to say that your answers won’t change with time, I would be surprised if they did not evolve. Rather, asking yourself questions provides you with a unique perspective when analyzing the various aspects of colleges. For instance, asking yourself “What gives me energy?” may open a conversation about the balance between work and social life, or maybe it sparks a realization that school spirit is more valuable than you thought it initially was, or maybe it shows you that finding what gives you energy is part of the reason you are attending college.
There is no ‘right way’ to look at colleges; it is an especially personal experience. Yet, I argue that there is a shared goal: to find the school that best fits you and your needs. With that said, over the next couple of weeks I plan to write more about this process, my experience with it, and my advice on how to tackle it during this exceptional time.
Jacob Connell has recently finished his sophomore year at George Washington University—from the safety of his home in Shaker Heights, Ohio.