College visits upended for seniors

Iola High seniors talk about the challenges they've faced in visiting campuses as they decide which college to attend. Visits have more stringent requirements because of the coronavirus.

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November 18, 2020 - 9:53 AM

Hannah Gardner, left, and Kailey Schinstock. Courtesy photo

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the process for high school seniors to visit prospective colleges before committing to their future plans.

Picking a college can be a daunting task. A senior might fall in love with its academics and activities, but also needs to consider the physical campus, such as how far they’ll need to walk, or run, to classes. 

“Seniors are at a disadvantage this year,” said Kelsey Johnson, counselor at Iola High School.

Uncertainty is the word that best describes this year, she said. Seniors may be reluctant to visit a college because of the pandemic, and online Zoom visits do not capture the essence of a physical visit. 

Despite this, IHS seniors such as Hannah Gardner and Kailey Schinstock, keep applying. 

GARDNER, who hopes to study law, has applied to nine out-of-state colleges, including those in Florida, the Carolinas, Indiana, and Michigan. She has already been accepted to the University of Kansas and the University of Central Florida, and is waiting to hear from other schools. 

She has not visited any colleges yet, but she worries that she will have to quarantine after she visits even one of the nine she has applied to. 

“I might have to do a virtual visit, which doesn’t give you the same effect. You want to see certain things, and they’re not going to show you everything on a virtual tour.” 

Before Hannah moved to Kansas, she lived in Florida and North Carolina, so she would like to return to one of those states to attend college. 

She fears she will not be able to visit all of the colleges that she applied to due to Iola High School’s eight-day allotment for absences. There is a form in the main office that can be filled out a week in advance to request excused absences for a college visit. 

SCHINSTOCK has applied to Allen Community College and Emporia State University and has visited both recently. 

At Emporia she felt very welcomed and included; the college even sent her a reminder the night before her visit. The visit was an all-day event. She could only bring two other visitors with her, which were her parents. 

Mask breaks were provided to those who wanted them. The guide ensured that everyone was engaged throughout the tour. 

Kailey is still on the fence about what she would like to pursue, though she does have an athletic scholarship to ACC. At Allen, she was unable to practice with the softball team due to the coronavirus. 

TODAY, colleges have new stipulations for visits. 

The schools will block some buildings to visitors to allow for as little exposure as possible, as well as to keep their students and staff safe. Dorms and housing are restricted to visitors, so if students wish to reside in the dorms, they must find other means to explore them. Some colleges do not allow visitors to eat in the dining hall without a reservation. 

At Iola High School, college representatives that visit the school have dwindled. Many visits have been organized through Zoom, though, again, the experience is not the same. Colleges continue to stay in touch with school counselors to optimize the quality of visits.

“Everyone’s trying to do their best,” Johnson said. 

Virtual visits are offered by most colleges on their websites, which showcase a majority of the campus. Virtual visits preceded the Covid-19 outbreak. 

Johnson recommends that seniors continue to apply to colleges, and attempt to set up a Zoom call before they visit the college. 

As are most things with Covid-19, everything is unknown. Colleges are still on the fence about their academics: whether or not they will be going hybrid or full-time online. Many colleges are limiting their class sizes so as to allow for the recommended social distancing between students, but also still provide an opportunity to meet together and learn.

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