August 6, 2020, by

Making the Most of your Virtual College Admission Research

with in-person college visits almost completely off the table—at least for the near future—most of this year’s applicants will need to narrow down their list remotely. No two ways about it: this is not ideal. There is no substitute for seeing a school, in session, in person. We do have several suggestions, though, on how to make the most of your online research…

Virtual tours and info sessions, usually accessible through college’s Admissions Office websites, are good starting points. But many students have asked us how they can dig deeper, without setting foot on campus.


Here are some ideas that we’ve seen make a difference:

Maximize Your Network: Don’t underestimate how willing most people are to talk about their college experiences. Of course, reach out to any friends or relatives you know who attend colleges of interest. But don’t stop there! Often, school counselors are willing to connect you with recent alums who currently attend particular colleges. You might ask your parents if they have acquaintances whose children go to schools you want to learn more about. Then, reach out with an email—you can get fantastic, detailed information this way about what sets different colleges apart: interesting programs, school culture and social life, and the more general, intangible “vibe”.

Keep an Eye Out for Online Resources: There are two basic types of online resources to keep in mind: those produced by colleges, and those made “outside of the institution.” They are both important. As more and more college Admissions Offices work hard to offer modes of engagement that go beyond the virtual tour, opportunities have arisen both to learn more and to make an impression. There are hundreds of examples, but, just for one, Boston University is currently offering both online chat sessions with Admissions Officers and current students (you’ll need to register), and videos that feature students briefly discussing things like their favorite professor, or internship opportunities. You might also take a look at student newspapers, university social media accounts, and alumni magazines for more context. Check out university Admissions Office websites for any school of interest to find out more.

On the “outside of the institution” front, crowd-sourced sites like Reddit and College Confidential need to be taken with a grain of salt—there is ultimately no guarantee that the information they publish is reliable. But, in the big picture, spending time sifting through their threads about particular schools can help give you a better sense of the “vibe”, if nothing else. CampusReel is another interesting site that posts “student-created” content (much of which seems to be made in partnership with Admissions Offices) on topics like dorm life, social scenes, and differentiating opportunities at various colleges.

And don’t forget good old Google Maps! You can actually get a solid feel for campus layouts, and surrounding areas, by browsing their satellite images.

Look at the Department Level: This is my personal favorite, because doing your homework on particular departments and programs of interest can do a TON to set you apart as an applicant. Interested in world languages? You might learn that Columbia’s Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures hosts a student-run academic journal, or that UCLA offers one of the top Scandinavian Studies programs in the country. Do you think you might want to study computer science? You might learn that Washington University in St. Louis funds a center devoted to creating apps for scientists, or that Carnegie Mellon recently launched the country’s first undergraduate major in Artificial Intelligence.

While researching how different areas of emphasis help distinguish academic departments from one another, you might also come across a truly unique interdisciplinary program that seems just right for you. To name a few of the thousands of excellent programs out there: Performance Studies at NYU; Grand Strategy at Yale; History and Philosophy at Colorado College; Interdisciplinary Engineering at Purdue; Native American Studies at Dartmouth; Music, Sound and Culture at Tufts; History and Literature at Harvard

Even if you don’t know yet what you’d like to major in, learning more about programs like these can help you better understand a college’s priorities. If you find a unique program that bundles together several of your interests, you might have just found a great fit school!

Reach Out to Your Admissions Office Representative

Once you have done some legwork and learned about specific programs and opportunities at a particular college, you might have some good, informed questions to ask. This is now a great time to reach out to an Admissions Office Rep with a brief, polite email. Most colleges divide up the country by region, and you can typically find contact information for your regional rep through the Admissions Office website. Particularly this year, since visits and face-to-face interactions are limited, Admissions Officers are likely to be very receptive to email outreaches.

Another great approach to contacting your Admissions Office Rep is by asking them to connect you to current students majoring in your areas of interest. This has the double benefit of helping you get reliable information about a school’s programs while also sharing your interests with Admissions Reps without seeming forced.

Remember, Admissions Officers are busy! Never flood an inbox, and make sure you have one or two questions that show you have done your homework.

Please contact the Marks Education Counseling Team for further advice on maximizing your remote research.






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