College visits offer insights but are still limited

September 20, 2021 — by Esther Luan and Kaasha Minocha
Senior Morgan Bettinger stands outside the NYU Stern School of Business during her college visit tour. 

When senior Morgan Bettinger set foot on the Boston University campus, it felt surreal. The images and virtual tours that she had seen on Google didn’t do justice to the quiet bustle of student activity and warm sunlight shining on the open walkways, nor could they capture the peppy lilt of Bettinger’s tour guide, a student who gestured enthusiastically at the expanse of the Charles River.

In July, Bettinger visited 10 colleges in the Midwest and East Coast including Columbia University, University of Michigan, University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University over the course of two weeks. She sat down with her parents a few weeks prior and went through the list of schools that she was most excited about, and they planned their detailed trip itinerary based on which ones were near each other. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions impacting traditional college student tours, Bettinger had to partake in a mix of outdoor, self-guided and audio tours. Visiting several campuses helped her consider different factors such as transportation, food and weather. 

Bettinger said visiting Boston University was the most useful experience since it provided a guided tour, which allowed for a more in-depth look on what makes the college unique. When she visited the University of Wisconsin, she was also able to discover the campus energy and environment by observing the students attending summer school there. 

“Originally, I really wanted to go to a city for college. But when I was visiting schools, I realized college towns seemed a bit more fun than I had thought,” Bettinger said. “By visiting these schools, I’m now more open to different schools that I was going into it.”

Along with Bettinger, guidance administrative assistant Gita Ramanathan added that campus tours have several benefits. 

“Having done in-person tours as a parent myself with my now college going kid, due to COVID-19, seniors are missing out on the following aspects: the ability to speak with current students, sitting in a lecture, an opportunity to talk to a professor in their major and gauging the vibe,” Ramanathan said.  “However, our school-hosted in-person visits have been very effective as students are able to meet with the representative and  understand their campus life and admission guidelines.” 

Senior Anthony Zheng visited Northwestern University and the University of Chicago over the summer and noted that while college visits are informative, they are not a necessity — especially considering the inconvenience of traveling during the pandemic. In fact, his primary reason for making the East Coast trip wasn’t to visit colleges, but rather, to visit his older brother, who was working an internship in Chicago at the time.

“It was nice to get an idea of the environment and culture of each campus, but it didn’t really inspire any drastic changes in my college list,” Zheng said. 

Remaining COVID-19 guidelines and the aftermath of pandemic restrictions meant several buildings on the two campuses were closed to visitors or for construction. Nevertheless, Zheng said the student-led tours were still a great resource for learning more about programs and facilities on campus.

“I would definitely still recommend seniors to take [college] visits if there’s a convenient opportunity,” Zheng said. “It gives you a good feel for what the college is like and if you’d fit well in the environment, but it isn’t a make-or-break experience.”