Top universities are canceling admitted students days left and right, including Harvard, Columbia, UCSB, Vanderbilt, U-Mich, CalTech and who knows how many more to follow. This is definitely an unideal situation, courtesy of COVID-19, but with a little ingenuity, we can get through this! Here's our advice for how to not get stuck in a rut of disappointment, accept that this is our reality and still make an informed admissions decision.
First, put yourself in the college's shoes.
Trust me, this is a pain for them, too.
Admitted student days are exciting for admissions staff as well, and they know that lots of students make their final decisions during or right after the visit. They're also disappointed about these circumstances and stressed about yield rates now, none of them canceled because they wanted to. They did this because their hands are tied. Think about what AWFUL publicity it would be if the small chance of an outbreak occurred after an admitted student's day. That would definitely damage their reputation and means that they could be held responsible. You just know there's going to be at least one lawsuit if that happens, and even if the plaintiff's case is rubbish, it's a nasty situation to have to deal with that schools try to avoid. This is a large gathering of people from all over the nation, in many cases all over the world. It's like a flying petri dish getting poured all over the campus. They could be held responsible for facilitating a massive spread, and honestly it's not that unlikely of a scenario.
As far as the argument that people in the typical freshman student age demographic are unlikely to get severely ill even if they contract it…let's just say a significant portion of the faculty and professors at most universities are in a more vulnerable age category.
Plus there are plenty of young people living with conditions that comprise their immune system, which would also put them into a higher risk group. To top it off, most admitted student days are around midterms or finals for current students, when they're already stressed, probably not engaging in the most healthy habits (who sleeps during finals week?) and are in public places studying. It would be utter, horrific chaos on the campus (and likely overwhelm student health services) if an outbreak occurred right then. A college ought to protect their current students, and when you take a look at this from their perspective, canceling admitted student days seem like a reasonable and necessary precaution.
Second, figure out whether you can still visit the campus.
Campus tours and unofficial visits are much less likely to promote the same probability or scale of infection. Visits that you initiate yourself mean that the campus isn't liable if you get sick, and are likely to be much smaller numbers of people over several days instead of hundreds all at once. That reduces the odds of spreading Coronavirus significantly, and many schools will likely still allow you to visit. For public universities, there's frankly nothing to stop you from wandering around the campus on your own, you don't have to be a student to set foot on a UC or CalState, for example.
Even if you can't visit the campus itself, you can likely still visit the city the college is in and thus still get a feeling for how much you would or wouldn't like being there. So if you already made non-refundable travel plans, make the most of it and check out the community outside the campus bubble. This honestly tends to be a neglected part of college visits. Though if you are sick, please DO NOT travel. Instead, learn for yourself how valuable webinars and virtual tours are. You'll still "see" the campus and can get a lot of information about student life that would be just as accurate as if it were delivered in person.
Third, talk to alumni or current students.
Check-in with your personal network, you may have family friends, or friends of friends who can give you the inside scoop about life at your first choice. If you don't have anyone (yet) in your network, turn to social media. Almost all colleges these days have Facebook pages that undergrads talk about their experiences in, and usually pages designed just for new students. A lot of schools have ambassadors or student rep programs, so they have current students ready and willing to talk to you about their experiences.
Please don't panic. There are hundreds of thousands of students every year who choose colleges they haven't been able to visit. Travel is expensive, please keep in mind that many of your peers were going to be forced to make a decision remotely, pandemic or not. Of course, it's a big disappointment, but try to focus on ways you can still make an informed choice about how you spend the next four years of your life.