Most DHS seniors (and now juniors) have probably received a fair amount of mail from colleges. (Neirad staff)
Most DHS seniors (and now juniors) have probably received a fair amount of mail from colleges.

Neirad staff

The Covid College Search: How Different Is It?

With virtual tours and a hard-working DHS Guidance Department, there's little reason to stress.

October 14, 2021

As I sit down to write this article, I’m distracted by the tab I have open with all the supplemental college essays I’m writing. Yes, despite Covid and everything associated with it, seniors still have to apply to college. No, it’s not the most stress-free time, but it could be worse. Colleges and Darien High School’s Guidance Department have rapidly adapted to the changes brought on by Covid, and the college process I’m experiencing isn’t overly dissimilar from that which my two older brothers experienced a few years ago.

I’m sure anyone currently applying to college already knows the basics: many schools are test optional, acceptance rates have plummeted, and schools are receiving more applications than ever before. This piece, then, is written not just for seniors, but also for freshmen, and for sophomores, and for juniors. Strap in.

As anyone who has tried to visit colleges in the past year knows, it wasn’t exactly easy to do—and, at certain universities like Harvard and Yale, still isn’t. While many colleges have recently begun to resume in-person tours, last spring, when many current seniors were trying to plan visits, the majority of northeastern schools were closed to the public. Therefore, instead of visiting in real life, my classmates and I were forced to visit virtually, often on YouVisit.com.

The YouVisit interactive tour for UConn, a popular college choice among DHS graduates.

YouVisit was founded in 2008, but the site’s traffic has grown exponentially in the last year and a half. With colleges across the country still shut down to visitors, virtual tours like YouVisit are often the only way a prospective student can scout out the area. Featuring interactive panoramic click-throughs (think Google Earth Street View) and commentary as you “walk,” YouVisit isn’t a bad alternative to an actual tour.

Still, as DHS senior Daniel MacLehose pointed out, in-person tours are valuable in their own right. Although virtual tours can provide you with important information and an HD view of campus, in-person tours are “much more… enjoyable,” MacLehose said. Virtual tours can go on “way too long,” MacLehose explained, and only through in-person tours can you “really get the inside scoop.”

When I spoke to Josephine Williams, another current DHS senior, she echoed this sentiment. Since any college will try to make itself “look good” on virtual tours, talking with current students is extremely beneficial, Williams said. For Williams, it’s “been helpful… to listen to what a more typical experience is at that university” from current students she knows, since “they’re more honest” and have little incentive to “sell the school.”

In addition to virtual tours, many colleges have shifted to holding information sessions online. With the help of Zoom, students can now hear about a college they are interested in from multiple students and faculty members—all in the same meeting, all at the same time. In that sense, these virtual information sessions aren’t the worst thing for the colleges: they can actually get more viewers and provide more opinions, since a Zoom call, unlike a physical space, doesn’t have a participant limit.

And as colleges have rapidly adapted to Covid, so has DHS’s Guidance Department. I spoke with School Counselor Ms. Ann Branca, who listed the countless resources Guidance has offered since Covid first hit us in March of 2020.

At the onset of quarantine, Guidance was particularly proud to set up Zoom meetings with current students and alums at various universities. At that point, many seniors had already been accepted into colleges, and these Zooms offered a perfect opportunity to sense the school’s vibe prior to May 1st, the day seniors had to officially commit somewhere. Despite the chaotic shift to virtual school, our counselors also made sure to continue posting information on each grade level’s Google Classroom, and guidance seminar continued.

Darien High School’s calendar for college rep. visits in the coming months, many of which will be held virtually.

Additionally, Guidance is currently hosting college representative visits. The schedule can be found on the “News & Announcements” section of the DHS website or on your personal Naviance account.

Whereas other schools may have taken the moment to slack off, DHS mobilized quickly. When I told Ms. Branca how much I appreciated Guidance’s effort, she verified what I had already been thinking: for current DHS seniors, this year’s college process has been “as good as possible given the circumstances.”

In a way, as Ms. Branca and Williams alluded to during our conversations, the changes brought on by Covid have been positive. Although in-person tours can certainly help prospective students, sometimes it’s more effective to get a vibe-check through chats with current students or even things as minute as browsing the school’s newspaper or checking out the college’s social media accounts.

Ms. Branca’s tips for current seniors? “Be mindful of deadlines” and “communicate with your school counselor.” As October rapidly comes to a close, Early Decision and Early Action deadlines are just over a month away; before we know it, the Regular Decision deadline will be too.

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