High school students are in uncharted territory these days. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, you may be navigating online learning for the first time. Your spring activities are probably canceled. Testing is looking different for students, if it’s happening at all. And with colleges and universities across the country closing to outside visitors, it can be difficult to know how to continue—or start—your college search.
With all the uncertainty, you may be tempted to put off your college search until things go back to normal, but this is actually a great time to do some college planning! You just need to have a little creativity and motivation. Here are five tasks you can accomplish in a single day to jump-start your college search.
1. Think about the right fit
Your college search starts with you. With thousands of schools out there, a great place to start your search is by exploring what makes up the best college experience for you. Spend some time brainstorming what qualities and attributes make up your perfect college fit. You’ll want to think about academics, social life, finances, and campus environment. Write down your “must haves” as well as your “deal breakers.” Now you have a list to reference as you explore colleges.
2. Take a virtual tour
Many colleges already have virtual tours available on their websites for students who don’t have the ability to travel for campus visits. These are a great resource to see what a college looks like and hear from a representative. Virtual tours usually have a student or admission representative serving as a tour guide, so you can hear the admission pitch you would have gotten in an in-person information session. If you’re looking to take virtual tours for more than one school, sites like YouVisit and Campus Tours compile tours from tons of colleges in one convenient place.
Pro tip: Explore the area around a college with your favorite map app too. Use street view to get to know the city or town you could be calling home for four years.
Related: COVID-19 and Virtual Campus Tours
3. Explore your major options
Virtual tours give you a good introduction to colleges as a whole. After finishing a virtual tour, if you think a college might be a good fit for you, go a little deeper. Spend some time investigating the department and major web pages for the areas you think you may want to study. What are the required classes, and do they interest you? Do the departments highlight special opportunities for research, internships, or subject-specific clubs? Is there any mention of access to professors or academic and career advising?
Also make sure to compare majors at multiple colleges. Look for unique opportunities that stand out. Just like you want to find the college that’s the best fit for you, you can explore which specific major is the right fit too.
4. Start your scholarship search
Part of the college search process is figuring out how you and/or your family are going to pay for school. Check the cost of attendance for the colleges you’re exploring and remember the importance of financial fit. A great place to start is the free FAFSA4caster, which will give you an estimate of your family’s eligibility for federal student aid. Then you can investigate merit-based and outside scholarships.
Your scholarship plan will vary based on the financial aid policies of the schools you’re applying to. Many public colleges, for example, are clear about GPA and test score requirements for merit-based scholarships. If these kinds of schools are on your list, your scholarship plan might actually include test prep planning to increase your SAT or ACT score.
For other colleges, you may want to investigate outside scholarships. Check out the Ultimate Guide to Searching for Scholarships to start!
5. Look at schools on social media
Alright, you’ve done some soul-searching, gone on a virtual tour, done a deep dive into majors, and made a plan to investigate scholarships. It’s time for an Instagram break! Check out the social media handles of the colleges you’re really interested in to see what they were posting before the coronavirus updates (or even since then—nothing shows off the merit of a school like how they act in a crisis).
If you’re interested in a particular part of student life, like an academic department, athletics, or a campus organization, see if they have their own social media handles for you to explore further. For example, many admission offices are active on Instagram and post often about student life on campus. Give them a follow and you’ll also stay up to date on any announcements they post in the future.
Related: The Balancing Act of Social Media
Although it doesn’t seem like it now, the coronavirus pandemic will come to an end. When it does, you’ll be ready to face the future knowing you did your best in finding the best-fit college for you.
For more advice on getting through this stressful time, check out our COVID-19 student resources page.