College Road Trips on the Screen

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The country has so far been able to make classes, graduation, and prom virtual. Now, 4Front and Hillel have found a way to take yet another high school experience online with the Virtual College Road Trip initiative.

“The year of COVID-19 has affected so much. College tours are yet another experience people are missing out on, so we wanted to create something that had the same feel with an immersive element,” said Rabbi Dena Shaffer, executive director of 4Front Baltimore, a community-wide Jewish teen initiative housed at the JCC of Greater Baltimore and
supported by The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore.

Virtual College Road Trip map: Screenshot by Rabbi Dena Shaffer

Virtual College Road Trip is an online initiative offering student-led college tours, information sessions with college administrators and Hillel leaders, insights on Jewish campus life, live discussions, and workshops to high schoolers from May 31 to June 30.

“Teens are missing out on visiting colleges so we want to bring colleges, as best we can, into their homes,” said Diana Solomon, director of innovation at 4Front Baltimore, in a press release. “We’re connecting teens to college students, admissions professionals, and Hillel leaders across the country to foster those personal interactions that really help students learn about campus life from the students’ point of view.”

4Front is part of a national network, whose Atlanta branch created the idea for the program. 4Front “jumped on the bus,” Shaffer said, and added more regional programming, including about 16 more schools to the list.

She and the students are managing social media, connecting people to workshops, and curating the experience.

For example, there will be fun college student “bus drivers” on Instagram stories.

“Every day of the tour there is a student to take over the social media, talking about their own campus experience, the classes they take, the clubs they’re a part of,” Shaffer said. “They upload a playlist every day. It kind of replicates the experience of teen visitors.”

There will also be information sessions to cover financial aid or application tips most days at 5 p.m. A Hillel representative, a student of the given school, and an admission staffer will share video and live conversation. Then there are workshops, some which will address the reality of COVID-19’s impact on the admissions process.

Shaffer sees students asking a mix of questions including about Jewish life on campus, while parents ask questions such as how involved they should in the process, what makes a winning essay, and how to cope with empty nest syndrome.

Shaffer said that parents have told her that they hope this program can continue after the pandemic. It would certainly help them save some money on flights.

Virtual College Road Trip wants to help teens learn more about themselves.

“Seek a school that will empower [you] to discover things you might not have known you were interested in,” said Shaffer. “We know Gen Z enters into school with a strong sense of who they are and what they want to do.”

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