While virtual visits can never quite replace walking through campus, we talked to local admissions pros about how to get the most out of interacting with prospective colleges online. Scott Hannigan, the senior director of admissions at Harding University, and Jarod Wickliffe, the assistant director of campus visits at the University of Central Arkansas, shared how to connect with a college during the pandemic.

Step 1: Visit the School’s Website

“A prospective student’s best friend in the age of technology is a university’s website,” said Wickliffe. From the site you can research degrees, take a self-directed tour, and when you’re ready, get in touch with the admissions office.

Your first impression of the site can reveal a lot about the university. “Taking note of how universities are adapting to the digital age of campus visits and the virtual classroom can shine a metaphorical light on how they have adjusted overall. Students can identify if colleges have increased their virtual presence and see if information is shared clearly on websites for future students, parents and guardians, and current students,” said Wickliffe.

Step 2: Research and Write

If you like what you see after visiting the site, it’s time to do your research. Wickliffe listed five questions every prospective student should ask during a virtual tour.

• What is the size of your student body and current freshman class?

• What is the student-to-faculty ratio on campus? What is the average class size?

• Ask specifically if they offer your degree program of interest or the prerequisites for applying to your desired program.

• What is the diversity breakdown of a university’s student population?

• What scholarships and financial support does the university offer?

Hannigan added to the list with a few more details to consider pre- and post-grad.

• What student-success support does the university offer?

• What are the university’s (and specifically your degree program of interest’s) job and graduate school placement rates?

• What career preparation services do you offer?

• Pandemic Focus: What is campus environment — including health and safety amid COVID?

Step 3: Visit (Virtually)

So what should students expect during a virtual tour? It can take many forms, but Wickliffe outlined the major virtual experiences universities offer. “It can be a virtual tour that you navigate yourself on their website; a virtual meeting platform with a current student and/or admissions staff where you can ask questions; a virtual presentation by university staff; and a virtual preview day or a one-stop shop for all the things that the university offers.”

Step 4: Follow Up

Hannigan offered some key to-dos after you make virtual contact with a school. “Make sure you get the contact information for each person you meet with so that you may follow up with them later.” Also, Hannigan suggests discussing next steps before you leave a virtual visit by asking questions like: “What should I do next in the college search process? Are there other visit opportunities that I should know about?”

You should also take a deep dive into your desired department. “If a university has your preferred degree program, ask for a contact for that department. If a faculty member can accommodate you with a virtual meeting of their own, that speaks volumes to their dedication to future students. Plus, it will allow you to learn more than just surface-level information about a program,” said Wickliffe.

“Prior to COVID-19, virtual campus tours were already common and accessible on school websites,” said Hannigan, “but there is a shift to a more personal and one-on-one approach given the current climate. Developing contacts and relationships is key, virtual or not.”

Bottom line: find a university willing to go above and beyond to connect with you — even from a distance.