One of the highlights of the fall, as a high school counselor, is welcoming my travel-weary colleagues from various admissions offices to our campus and reconnecting with them. We consider many of these reps family. It is a reunion of sorts and we look forward to catching up with them personally and professionally each year.
Like many counselors at high schools preparing for the strange and unusual 2020-2021 school year, my colleagues and I realized early on that hosting over 80 college reps, who are travelling from one campus to another all over the county, state, or country, was probably not the smartest idea when it comes to limiting the spread of COVID-19. On top of that was the question of whether campus would even be open. On the other side of the desk, college and university admissions offices were having similar conversations as they wrestled with how to conduct high school visits in a safe and effective manner for all.
Voila! Virtual rep visits! Like everything else, visits went online. In August, my colleagues and I decided to send invitations to college admissions officers to virtually visit our school through YouCanBookMe. We have used YouCanBookMe for several years to schedule student/parent meetings. Once a date was booked, my colleague would send the reps a Zoom link. We were able to accommodate three reps per day after school at 2:45 p.m.
We posted the visits in Naviance where students could RSVP. If students had the school in their college list, one of my colleagues or I would send the students the Zoom link a day before the visit. To minimize confusion, we used the same link for all visits. On the day of the visit, students would log on from wherever they were. My colleague then sent us to breakout rooms where each rep had “co-host” privileges such as screen-sharing and access to the chat. There have been several days where we’ve hosted three different college meetings simultaneously.
I admit, I was skeptical at first. Nothing could replace the interaction of a real person, but I have actually really enjoyed these virtual visits. I am so appreciative of my colleagues in admissions. Whether they’re Zooming from home or the office, they have been professional, well-prepared, informative, and most of all, caring. We all acknowledged the challenges of this time. We have contended with barking dogs, students in cars, and fantasy football drafts. Students would occasionally drop off because of poor internet connection or their device’s battery would die.
Some of the situations both sides faced were, I admit, a bit humorous. One student, Zooming from home, had a college banner on the wall behind him, and it was not the college he was zooming with – awkward. With each laugh during these shared times, the reps became more human and less scary. Students began to trust them when they said that test optional really meant test optional, and they appreciated hearing how each college or university is working to engage students in the midst of a pandemic. There was hope, humanity, empathy, and good will all around.
For many of my students, these rep visits have been their only personal connection to the college or university to which they are applying. Overall, students have said they could see the slides, ask questions, and save any links shared in the chat. For the most part, they felt more comfortable in the setting of their choice and more engaged in the presentation. Reps have also shared the pros and cons of this format, such as not having to commute, but all have acknowledged Zoom fatigue is real. We have had fewer visits this year as some colleges have organized group events rather than individual school visits to alleviate screen time.
As I reflect, I acknowledge the privilege of my school and of those students who have access to reliable technology that make these virtual visits possible. Not all students or reps have had positive experiences with virtual rep visits. This pandemic continues to highlight the inequities in society. I still believe nothing can replace the human interaction of an actual rep visit. However, one of these days when we return to “normal” again, I hope we view virtual rep visits as another tool in our toolbox for us to connect, laugh, and care for one another in the college admissions process. To all of you hardworking reps on your billionth Zoom visit, you are all family, be it online or on campus.