Use virtual tours, social media to explore college options

Danny Umali

Danny Umali

College visits are a critical component of the college planning process.

They allow students and their families to learn more about the college’s culture and the “feel” of the campus. They also provide colleges with the opportunity to evaluate an applicant’s expression of interest and likelihood to enroll – two major considerations with admissions and merit scholarships.

With colleges closed, visits are impossible.

As a private college planner, I hear from families and students that “we are stuck at home and there is nothing we can do.” Don’t fall for it. Let’s not accept defeat, just yet.

Instead, let’s shine some light on two things that your high school junior and senior can do from home right now to move their college plan forward without the college visit.

For high school seniors and juniors, a virtual tour could be the next best thing.

Many colleges offer virtual tours directly from their websites. Additionally, there are many platforms out there that will allow you to see these colleges from a virtual perspective.

Some of the major players include, and

Now is also a good time to rethink your social media strategy.

Today, we’re just going to focus on Linkedin, the professional network.

I’ll start by asking a question: Can you name a college that does not have a LinkedIn page? I didn’t think so.

For many high school seniors and juniors, social media engagement can be more effective than a visit.

A lot of families and college admission counselors may be surprised to see this on the list. Make no mistake about it, your social media activity can make a meaningful and positive difference with your college plans. With canceled SAT and ACT test dates along with high schools currently considering pass/fail grading systems, grades and test scores as admissions criteria can become less reliable in the next couple of admissions cycles.

So other subjective factors drawn from social media activity may become more prominent as colleges decide which students get admitted and which students get paid.

Because most students are on social media (maybe even this very second), this shouldn’t be too difficult of a transition.

If we can get our students to log out of Tik Tok for a few minutes, we can teach them some of these basic social media principles.

A LinkedIn account costs nothing to create. There is a free version that can do all the things you need. (I actually use a free account myself.)

For many students, LinkedIn can be a great tool to research colleges.

You can gain a sense of the college’s priorities and mission from the content they share.

You can dive into the “alumni” section and see how many LinkedIn members went to the college along with valuable employment data: What did they major in? Where do they work? What do they do? What companies do they work for?

I once had a student that dreamed of working at Pixar. We researched their company page from my LinkedIn account, and I discovered that I had a connection that worked there.

There are a lot of parents that have LinkedIn accounts with an almost infinite number of professional connections. What kind of introductions could they potentially arrange for their own students?

We also helped another student update her LinkedIn page, listed her test scores, showcasing her accomplishments and ensuring her contact information was readily available on her profile.

Within hours of following a college on LinkedIn, this student received an email from a college that offered to fast-track her application.

They also waived the essay requirement and awarded her an initial scholarship for $10,000.

Not bad, especially when you consider that she never visited the college, let alone applied.

In future articles, I will discuss how students can leverage other social media networks as part of their college-planning strategy.

Danny Umali is a community contributor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the principal of Game Theory College Planners. He has helped more than a thousand high school students and their families navigate the complexities of applying to college. He lives in Sandy Springs with his wife Karen and his three terriers. He can be reached at