During the college application process, students usually have the opportunity to visit numerous college campuses across the world in order to figure out if you can envision yourself at that university. Visiting schools is a great way to help decide if you should apply to the school and the visit can inspire your “Why X” college application essay.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, physically visiting a school is really difficult. However, many universities are now transitioning their campus tours online. Additionally, other programs, such as overnight stay programs and shadow days, are also being transitioned to the virtual realm.
So how can you narrow down your college application list and write the “Why X” essay if you can’t visit a school? Hopefully through these tips, you can use resources to better your understanding of a college, their academics, and student life. Here are a list of ways you can get to know a university without visiting:
1. Online Virtual Visits: So many colleges are now offering free campus tours online. All you would have to do is sign-up via their website. I would recommend searching “College Name Admissions Presentation” and “College Name Campus Tour/Virtual Tour” and see what websites come up. Through attending an online admissions presentation and campus tour, you can speak to admissions representatives and student ambassadors of the university. When attending the online event, you should come prepared with some questions that you would want answered. Asking about a certain major, what a typical day-in-the-life looks like, and favorite professors/classes, can help guide your understanding of the university. If someone mentions a cool program or research that they are a part of that is unique to the university, that can help you write your “Why X” essay.
2. Emailing a Professor: This step involves doing some of your own research. If you know what field you are interested in pursuing, you can look up the classes that a typical undergraduate would need to take in order to graduate from that college. If you find a particularly fascinating class, field of research, or professor with an interesting background, you can reach out to the professor and try to schedule a time to chat or reach out and ask if you would be able to shadow the class. When classes were in person, UC Berkeley had a program called Class Pass (https://visit.berkeley.edu/attending-a-lecture-at-berkeley/) where you could sit in a lecture as a non-Berkeley student. Shadowing a class is a great way to see a professor’s teaching style, the content of the course, and pace of a college class.
3. Watch YouTube Videos from Students: There are so many YouTube videos of current college students from many different universities where they share vlogs, their daily life at school, and tips. I post YouTube videos relating to UC Berkeley, and I see so many other young people posting videos that relate to their university. Watching YouTube videos can help you see what a day-to-day life of a student looks like. You can also comment or message these creators with specific questions that you may have. Seeing the student perspective is a great way to see if you could envision yourself in a similar environment. For me, I was really drawn to California schools because of watching student's YouTube vlogs during Big Game Week: the football rivalry between Berkeley and Stanford.
4. Reach out to Current College Students: Similar to the last point, if you know students who applied to the college you want to go to and were accepted, you should reach out to them and ask questions. Talking to current college students can help shed light on the application process, why they think they got accepted to the university, and other advice they might have for you. Even if you do not know anyone at the schools you want to go to, you could do some research on LinkedIn and message a current student who is studying the field you want to get into.
5. Read Reddit, College Confidential, and Similar Sites: When I was applying to colleges, I did not know any older students who had applied and got accepted into the schools I was applying to, so I turned to the internet. Looking at sites like Reddit and College Confidential can be helpful if you are looking for a community of people in a similar situation as you. You can also post questions on these forums if you are confused by the college application process.
From all of these avenues, you can learn more about a university which can help guide your decision about applying to a school. Any little piece of fascinating information that you learned through these methods can become the basis for your “Why X” college application essay. In the time of the pandemic, doing your own research is necessary!
Rachel is the founder of Study Hall College Consulting. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley in the Class of 2020 where she double majored in Cognitive Science and Legal Studies. For more college application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.
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