Colleges are putting their best foot forward online: virtual college fairs, and Zoom gatherings, sometimes targeted to region or interest. And then there's the "virtual tour," informative videos or PowerPoint presentations covering the attractions of campus and the city at large. But online is online -- you're not getting the sounds of a bustling quad, a taste of campus food -- does virtual really cut it for such a big decision?

You've probably purchased any number of college guide books and how-tos, published pre-pandemic, stressing the importance of the IN PERSON college visit. Don't Judge a College By Its Website, they plead.

If it's any consolation, I've never believed you should dump from consideration any college whose campus you can't reach by deadline time -- IF that college checks all the boxes.

Let's take fictional college senior John. He lives in Omaha, NE. He is looking at colleges out-of-state. He wants to major in Linguistics at a small institution with ample opportunity for hiking and no Greek Life. Affordability is a factor. Oh, and the college cannot have a WHAT???? acceptance rate.

John has very specific Must Haves, and two colleges that would start waving their arms at him would be Reed College in Portland, OR (35% acceptance rate; their institutional grants serve to meet demonstrated financial aid) and Evergreen State in Olympia, WA (a public institution; due to its uniqueness and self-selecting applicants, their acceptance rate usually hovers above 90%) Let's take the pandemic out of the hypothetical -- John can't travel to visit the Pacific Northwest before January; he has four APs, a part-time job and debate tournaments coming up. Should he apply to Evergreen and Reed? Sure, why not?

Here's the thing: let's say he applies and gets acceptance letters from both Reed and Evergreen in March of his senior year (as Evergreen has rolling admissions, John could find out his fate at ESU even sooner). He has until that deposit deadline of May 1 to take a look around [1]. That's plenty of time as senior year winds down to set foot on campus and make a more informed decision.

No college is perfect, and trying to find time to look at campuses when you're already overscheduled is a struggle. But when you're on the fence about applying to that college that has everything but your name on the visitor's log, think about the gap between admissions decisions and deposit date. It's more than okay to pay a visit as both a prospective student and/or an admitted student.

[1] Many colleges and universities pushed back their deposit deadline in 2019 due to the pandemic. That may indeed be the case in 2020; I'm keeping an eye on it.