Making the Most of Virtual College Visits


Ava Dickson

Hutchison students attend a virtual college visit with The University of Arkansas.

The COVID-19 pandemic has us rethinking every aspect of education from high school classes to college visits.  Hutchison’s Director of College Counseling, Lauren Colpitts,  offers advice on making the most of virtual college visits.

How would you describe virtual college visits?

For this year, we are actually offering two different types of virtual college visits. During the school day, we have invited colleges to visit with us virtually from noon to 1pm. There has been a school almost every day at noon and another at 12:30pm.  We’ve had 56 schools virtually visit so far this fall. Those types of visits are meant to replicate what previously happened when colleges were actually coming to Hutchison during the school day and visiting our students.  Those visits have been small, but that has really allowed students to learn a lot about a school and essentially have a one-on-one session with an admissions counselor. One of us sits in on those meetings and if students aren’t there, then that’s been a way for us to ask the counselor questions, hear updates about what’s happening on their campus, and especially in terms of applications, how that process is looking for the classes of 2021 and 2022.  

In previous years, we’ve planned “The Evening With Colleges” event with Memphis University School and St. Mary’s, and there have been three rotating locations. This year, because of COVID, we weren’t able to do those.  Over the summer, the Directors of College Counseling from all three schools planned to do different types of events virtually so that students and parents could continue to get this information.  We had the idea of creating the visits around a focused theme, instead of overwhelming everyone with forty different colleges all at once.  There will be a total of eleven themed visits. They started in September.  

Each speaker gives a presentation, usually with slides as a high-level overview of their school. We talk a bit about their individual application process, and then we open it up for questions. Students have been asking really great questions.  We hope that even when we are able to go back to in-person visits, we are still able to keep this idea of a theme because I think that’s been helpful for students to either explore new types of schools or to focus on the schools in their particular areas of interest. (“The Evening With Colleges” typically happens at 6:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and a link is emailed to students and families each week.)

How are colleges carrying out the virtual visits?

Every college in the world, right now, has invested a lot of resources into their individual college visits, so you could go on any school’s website and do a virtual college tour, or a virtual admissions presentation. Every school is just doing it a little differently. Some are going live and you can schedule a specific time to meet and talk to them. There are even some schools where you can go on a live virtual college tour with a tour guide walking you around campus. It all depends on the resources and what is available. I know everyone is getting a little overwhelmed with Zoom-fatigue and they understand that, but this is also a great opportunity to learn about schools that have not been on your radar or to really continue to show that you are interested in a school, even if you can’t visit them in person.  

Are there any in-person college visits right now, and what is your advice for those?

There are some schools that are offering in-person visits. It really depends on the region. The northeast does not offer in-person college visits right now, but I know for example in the south, Tulane has been able to continue to offer their in-person tours. It really just depends on the region. I think when you’re planning college visits just remember to schedule in advance and be flexible because they could potentially change even an hour before you get there if they see a spike in COVID-19 cases. I think a lot of schools may not necessarily be allowing visiting students to go into buildings. You won’t see as many students right now on campuses, but hopefully, by the spring, we will begin to see a more typical college-visit experience return.

What are tips for virtual college visits?

Just go for it! Virtual visits are a great way to collect information. Don’t be worried if you are the only person meeting with the admissions representative. They are really nice people. It’s meant to be a conversation. It’s not meant to be anything super formal and it goes a long way in getting to know the personality of a school, just by talking to someone from the admissions office.  

If it’s a school you are already interested in, come prepared with questions and think about questions that you could not easily find on their website. Admissions counselors don’t necessarily love it when you ask general questions like, “How’s your English department?.”  Think of more specific questions like “What are the internship opportunities for English majors?” or “What research opportunities are available?.” For colleges that do track demonstrated interest, the virtual visits are a way for them to continue to do that. They are collecting that information and they are going to remember if a student took the time to meet with them virtually as well. 

If a student is going to have a virtual admissions interview, our college counseling department loves to help with interview preparation and we are more than happy to do that. In fact, we do that pretty regularly.

Do most students bring their college essays to you for help?

This year, Mrs. Wilson and I are the primary college counselors for the class of 2021. Mrs. Daniel is newer to our school and does not necessarily have a cohort assigned to her right now so that she can get acquainted with all of our students. She will begin having students from the junior, sophomore and freshman classes. We really wanted her to be able to get to know students so we decided to have her be the point-person for college essays and ever since we announced this, she has been booked every single day with eight to fifteen appointments a day, helping girls with their essays. Mrs. Wilson and I help too.  We love to watch your story come to life and help students to see that it’s the little things that we do every single day that turn into the best essays. It’s not necessarily something that’s so profound. It’s the scary or overwhelming part of the application process and it just isn’t something that should be scary or overwhelming because we are here to help everyone with their essays.  

We have a fun event planned with an application party since November 1 is the first of the big admissions application deadlines.  We are inviting students who want to come up and work with us on Wednesday in the afternoon or evening.  We are helping students put finishing touches on their applications or just to be there for them when they hit “submit.”  We want to make it fun!

How many colleges should be on my application list?

Typically for Hutchison students, about six or seven schools is the average, however, if students want to apply to 25 schools, we support that.