Before the pandemic made virtual gatherings so commonplace in recent months, I enjoyed the expression on our son’s face when he watched me navigate a Zoom meeting or present at a virtual webinar. It literally shouted, ”Hey Dad, it doesn’t have to be so complicated.”
Exactly! That is what I am telling him now as he begins his college search on the computer, iPad or Smartphone he has mastered since an early age. It doesn’t have to be so complicated for him to tour a campus, interact with admission counselors, even speak with students for their verdict on an institution’s cafeteria food.
Virtual tours of college campuses have been around for many years and provided a convenient means for gaining an initial view of a campus.
But since the COVID-19 pandemic has limited access to traditional campus visits for safety reasons, virtual open houses are the “new normal” in assisting high school students and college transfers navigate the college search process — with just a click.
I’m suggesting that prospective college students and their families take advantage of schools’ ever-increasing interactive presentations. Starting with the virtual tour, these have evolved from static views of college’s most impressive spots on campus to realistic tours featuring current students or recent alumni serving as virtual guides.
When coupled with compelling video, dazzling photography, complementary music or sounds of the campus, and insightful student testimonials, these can be quality productions that make you think: “I can picture myself here.”
Colleges vary on whether you can remain anonymous while taking the virtual tour or if your personal information represents your ticket to the show. Virtual open houses, on the other hand, almost universally require students to formally register.
These allow for a broader audience to explore campuses and hear from students, parents, alumni, faculty and staff. They can be specialized events with a focus on specific academic majors or dedicated to a student’s special interest in athletics or other co-curricular activities like pep band, theatre or equestrian.
Wilmington College is a personal-sized institution and still offers in-person campus visits, but it has restricted those visits to a few a day while also limiting specialized events on campus to a finite number of guests.
In the interest of safety for all involved, WC currently is holding its historically larger events like scholarship competitions virtually.
So, whether you are a transfer student or still in high school, you now actually have more access to college and universities than even before, albeit virtually.
The fact that there is no cost — monetary or physical — from long car rides on an empty stomach to deal with, I would recommend signing up for these events while you can.
No one knows how long this pandemic will last, so let’s make the best of it with the resources these colleges and universities are providing our county’s students.
Parents are invited, too.
Dennis M. Kelly, a nationally known enrollment administrator, has been presenting columns in the Wilmington News Journal on navigating the college search process as a service to local families. Kelly is the senior vice president for enrollment management at Wilmington College.