How Do I Access US Colleges' Virtual Resources?

Posted on 20th April 2021

Over the past few months, we have been delighted to see life in the UK slowly returning to normal, reuniting with friends and family and enjoying small freedoms that had previously been on hold. But one part of pandemic life that we are hoping to see continue is the wealth of virtual opportunities that have proliferated for potential applicants to US colleges. Although we all value travel and making in-person connections (now perhaps more than ever!), we have found that the current climate lends itself to online events that are easier for us to fit into our schedules and attend from the comfort of our homes.

We have always recommended that students take campus tours and attend events with representatives of the universities that interest them, as this is the best way to get a first-hand experience of what campus life is like and how you might fit into a specific university community. However, even before the pandemic, travelling to the US for college visits may not have been practical or possible for international applicants, and it can also be tricky to find time in busy schedules to attend university information events in person. But the pandemic forced many of these opportunities online, and as restrictions loosen, we hope that many of these events will continue to operate in both an online and in-person capacity.

How can you make the most of the online offerings, which can be a bit overwhelming in their volume? First, these can serve as beneficial tools in creating a college list. With hyper-selective elite colleges becoming even more selective (find out more about the data here), building diversity into your college list has never been more crucial. It can be difficult to know where to begin, as we all know the big-name US universities will provide an excellent experience. But taking part in online offerings like campus tours and events with university representatives can give you the insider information you're looking for about those colleges with which you may be less familiar, but perhaps an even better fit!

To find campus tours, check your chosen university’s website. To find online university events, check the events page of our website, or subscribe to our newsletter for students and parents here. Also, keep an eye on our social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter), as we regularly post links to external events featuring university representatives and admissions officers.

A second way of utilising the expanded range of online offerings is summer programmes. Taking part in a summer programme with a US college, whether in-person or online, can give you a taste of the rigour of college-level academics at your chosen destination, and an example of a teaching style on offer there. If you are able to attend a summer programme in person, this will give you a more immersive experience and a sense of wider life at that university.

UC Berkeley have great summer programme opportunities: you can find more info about these on the programme website, and access the programme’s virtual office here. Brown has both in-person and virtual options for their summer courses. If you’re a school counsellor, you might find IACAC’s comprehensive listing of summer programmes useful: you can access that on their website here.

Finally, you can use virtual opportunities to expand your academic profile. As colleges go test-optional and the SAT Subject Tests are phased out, one way that students can show their intellectual vitality beyond the classroom is by taking a college-level course online. These are less of a commitment than a full summer programme, and still give students a taste of academics at their chosen institution. If you're taking subjects heavily weighted to one area or another (for example, double maths and Physics or English Literature, Art, and French), taking an online, university-level course in an unrelated subject you enjoyed at GCSE but didn't continue at A-Level, or just something you've always been curious about, can show US admissions officers that you have the intellectual breadth to thrive in the varied US liberal arts curriculum.

MIT offers a range of free teaching and learning materials as part of their OpenCourseWare, which you can access and find out more about here.  Harvard also has some free course offerings.

Another way to show your intellectual curiosity and range is to attend a lecture series online, or take some short courses from cultural institutions like MOMA or the BFI. The great thing about US universities is that they love to see students taking the initiative to explore their passions. So, think about something you love and would like to spend more time doing, or find out more about, and seek out a way to pursue this interest online. Not only will this add value to your US application, but in a difficult time like the pandemic, it can also be a great way to look after your mental health by building enjoyment and engagement into your day!

Whether you take an online campus tour, attend a virtual summer programme, or sign up for a lecture series, there are lots of ways to make the digital world we currently inhabit work to your advantage when researching colleges and making yourself a competitive applicant. For more information, you can always reach out to us at!

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