Virtual visits bring colleges closer

Students from William and Reed Academy in Johns Creek met online with a representative from the University of Alabama during a recent virtual campus visit.
Students from William and Reed Academy in Johns Creek met online with a representative from the University of Alabama during a recent virtual campus visit.

The tradition of aspiring college students making in-person campus visits is just another facet of life that’s been pinched by the pandemic. As institutions at both university and high school levels shut down, the opportunities for students to tour, sit in on a class, meet with advisors and check out the dorms have dwindled.

But both sides have found a way to move the experience to the virtual world. At William and Reed Academy in Johns Creeks, students have taken advantage of online “visits” to learn more about colleges and universities without being on campus. Since the fall, the college prep school has hosted about 40 such sessions.

Chelsea Blevins, William and Reed’s director of college counseling, was teaching AP literature last spring when COVID closed things down.

“All opportunities for college fairs, visits, even testing stopped,” she said. “When we came back in the beginning of last year, we started setting up virtual visits and putting them into the calendar on our website. Students can click on the link and immediately be in a Zoom meeting. It’s made it so much easier for them.”

It’s so simple, in fact, that students such as Andrew Herman have joined the conversation while in the car on the way home.

Some online visits offer something in-person tours during COVID can not.

“Right now, you can’t go in the dorms, and you have to stay outside or be in a big auditorium,” he said. “A lot of places do have options to see 360-degree pictures of the rooms, and it’s nice to see the layout. It’s not quite the same, but it’s helpful. I didn’t feel I was losing out by going virtual.”

Michelle Laury, a junior from Johns Creek, attended several virtual visits to explore options around child life studies. One call with Georgia Southern was so informative that it motivated her to make an in-person visit three months ago.

“My first contact with them was virtual, and I learned a lot more about the college than if I’d gone in person because there weren’t a lot of people on the visit,” she said. “I got to ask more questions and talk one-on-one. It was very personal, and I appreciated that.”

Online visits also give students the chance to explore schools they might not have considered if it meant taking a road trip, said Blevins.

“It’s opening up our students’ world a bit more beyond the schools they know they can visit over spring break,” she said. “It’s also allowed a lot more flexibility for the colleges as well since they don’t have to worry about travel time. This has opened up the possibilities for schools to recruit to secondary schools they wouldn’t have thought of before.”

Virtual visits by reps from the University of Georgia, Alabama and Stanford have been well attended, said Blevins. Others made surprise impressions.

“I keep encouraging our sophomores and juniors to do as many virtual tours as they can. Once you’ve decided where you want to apply, then you have to try to go to the campuses. But this is a great start,” said Blevins.

Information about William and Reed is online at williamandreed.com.

SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.

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