Fall is undeniably my favorite time of year in Oberlin. The leaves vary between a golden yellow and a fiery red and I pull out my favorite vintage jacket. Last year, the change in leaves also meant a new adventure, admissions fall travel. Although I am an expert packer and have done a lot of traveling in my life, I was really nervous to travel for work for the first time. Now, a year later, fall travel looks very different and, while I don’t have to navigate new cities, virtual travel has come with its own challenges.
In a normal year, college admissions counselors set out across the country to meet students, families, and counselors in their home cities. We visit high schools, conduct interviews, and attend college fairs to try and reach as many people as we can in a limited time. As a new counselor, I used my first travel season to learn more about the schools and students from my regions so that when I read their applications in the winter I would be better able to understand their background.
Last year, I broke up my travel into two trips, visiting a total of seven different cities: Minneapolis, Portland (OR), Seattle, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and my hometown Tulsa. I started off my first trip with three days in the Twin Cities. I didn’t get much of a chance to explore the city as I left Tuesday evening for Portland. I then spent three days visiting schools in Portland and Beaverton. On Saturday I got to wander around Powell’s Bookstore and host a preview before leaving on Sunday for Bellevue. The last week of my trip I got to visit schools in the Seattle area, ending with a college fair. After the fair ended, I flew back to Oberlin and then less than a week later I left again, this time for Texas and Oklahoma. Between navigating unfamiliar cities in a new car, meeting new people every hour, and trying to decide which restaurant might have the best food, travel wore me down. I’m an introvert who likes to keep to their routine, so while planning for travel in the summertime was perfect for my puzzle-loving brain, actually carrying it out took a little more effort.
This year, Zoom has changed how admissions counselors approach travel, and those changes are both good and bad. Selfishly, I miss traveling because of the food. Portland and Seattle satisfied my constant craving for sushi, ramen, and okonomiyaki, while Texas was a never-ending buffet of TexMex and BBQ restaurants. But most importantly, I feel that I have lost my sense of place. One of the best parts of in-person travel is that you get a sense of what a high school's atmosphere is like. You see students, teachers, and counselors living their daily lives, which always helped me feel more connected to the students when I read their applications. At the same time, hosting virtual visits has allowed me to connect with students in schools I never would have had the opportunity to visit with in person. While navigating five different time zones can be tricky, virtual visits have freed me up to meet with more schools than last year. No longer limited by time or distance, I can talk with students in El Paso at 3:00 and by 4:00 I can visit with students in Honolulu.
The pandemic has brought with it a lot of uncertainty. I watched as my job changed overnight and my colleagues and I had to quickly adapt to a situation we’d never been in before. Like everyone, I can’t help but wonder how the switch to remote work will change my job in the future. If admissions counselors are able to visit hundreds of schools through Zoom with little to no cost, I wonder will we continue to use virtual visits in the future? I’m not sure. For now, I will continue to meet as many students as I can and hope that someday I’ll get to see you all in person again.