The college road trip is an American tradition, and a part of the application process that many students look forward to. Typically during the summer between junior and senior year of high school, students and their families will drive a planned route to visit the colleges they’re planning on or considering applying to, to take tours, meet with students and faculty, and see if the school is the right “fit” for them.

However, like so much else in 2021, college visits may look a little different this year. With the coronavirus pandemic leaving both colleges and families in flux, a physical college road trip may not be possible for many students. Don’t panic! If physical visits aren’t in the cards, you can still plan your “virtual college road trip,” and even use the format to your best advantage. Here are a few tips for how you can plan your virtual college road trip:

Set a Calendar

Plan out in advance when you’ll have the time to do your virtual trip, and mark the days so you know to keep them free. Once you’ve looked a little more into the offerings at various schools, you can begin to set out particular days for specific schools. If you like, get a map, and mark which schools you’re visiting on your “trip”—not only will this feel more like a real road trip, it will help you remember where you’ll be headed should you decide to attend one of these schools!

Reach Out in Advance to the Schools Where You’re “Stopping”

While most colleges are offering virtual campus tours, it’s a great idea to reach out to the schools you’re interested in beforehand. Join any mailing lists they have for prospective students, or send an email to an administrator in the admissions office. The school might be able to connect you with current students and alumni for a virtual meeting, or put you in touch with faculty in the departments that interest you, helping you get a better sense of the school.

Schedule “Time Off”

Even though the trip is virtual, absorbing the new information about all these schools can be tiring! Be sure to schedule free afternoons here and there between schools, to unwind and absorb everything you’ve been seeing. And since you’re on a “road trip”, don’t be afraid to treat yourself to some time outdoors and fun snacks so that even a virtual trip feels like a break.

Take Advantage of Long “Detours”

While there are many obvious challenges to a virtual road trip as opposed to a physical one, there are also advantages, one of which is that you’re no longer bound by the physical limits of geography. Planning a string of visits to schools on the East Coast, but there’s just one college in California you’re aching with curiosity about? Take a detour! When you’re planning a virtual trip, the nation is your oyster. You can even make a road trip out of nothing but detours—zigzagging your virtual tours and meetings at schools across the country.

Be Flexible!

As with everything in the past year, college touring this summer is subject to a lot of uncertainty. Be prepared to work around technological issues, or reschedule tours if they end up conflicting with one-on-one meetings or phone calls. If a school near you decides to reopen some in-person touring this summer, and you feel comfortable attending, this may also be a factor. But as with everything else in the college application process, an open mind and a willingness to “think outside the box” are key to a good virtual road trip experience.

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