Choosing the college you want to attend — a place where you'll ultimately begin your adult life — is inevitably a difficult decision. Amid a global pandemic that has caused many schools to pause in-person visits and offer virtual-only tours of campus, that decision is harder than ever. 

For years I’ve been researching and discovering different universities across the country that I could potentially see myself attending. I never thought, however, that I would be making this life-altering decision without ever having stepped foot on the campuses of schools I'm applying to.

Packing up, moving away and leaving your adolescent life behind already is daunting. Until recently, college tours were at least one way of making that transition less intimidating.

For me, I’ve had my heart set on going to a university far from home since I was little, and while I still plan to take that leap, I feel significantly less prepared. The inability to travel to college campuses and explore them for myself has formed a crater in my path toward leaving Santa Fe.

Digital tours are the new normal and the only safe way to explore colleges and universities of interest — especially when driving across the country or jumping on a flight aren't always safe or responsible options at this time. Unfortunately, this presents many barriers and issues with the college admissions process.

Without in-person tours, many teens, myself included, don't know where to begin when it comes to choosing a school.

I don’t know where to apply because I don’t know where I’ll fit in. Over the years, I’ve created these dream-like colleges in my mind, but I now wonder if they're really what I think they are or if I've romanticized them in my head. One of my biggest fears as I begin my last year of high school is not finding a college that fits with me. These fears have only multiplied amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual tours can provide lots of information about a school, including visual imagery of a classroom or dorm. However, they cannot replace the feelings you get when visiting a school in person. There's no way to supplement that excitement when you arrive to a campus or the "vibe" you get, knowing it's either the right or wrong choice.

I know eventually I will find the school I’m supposed to attend, and I’m sure in the long haul my inability to tour that school won't affect much. In this stage of my life, however, it's … a lot. Graduating high school is already scary. Moving away from my family is scary. And settling into a place I’ve never seen aside from an interactive photo and video montage on the internet is absolutely petrifying.

I just keep reminding myself that it's all temporary, and that to succeed during a global pandemic, I have to at least have faux confidence. In person or not, I’ll find my place one way or another.

Ivy St. Clair is a senior at Santa Fe High School. Contact her at ivy.ian.st.clair@gmail.com.

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