When T.S. Elliot proclaimed April “the cruelest month,” maybe he had in mind the agonizing choices faced by high school seniors trying to decide which college to attend. Until acceptances arrive, nearly everything about college is hypothetical.

With the May 1 deadline around the corner, where only one college can be chosen, abstract ideas suddenly become very real. Limitless possibilities give way to just a few, and for young people, this winnowing can be really hard.

With COVID-19, it’s just that much harder. Traditionally, April is the month when colleges host Admitted Student Days, gala occasions when colleges allow prospective enrollees to visit classes, stay in dorms, and socialize with prospective classmates and faculty. Not this spring.

So how is a student to manage? I personally encourage students to look on the bright side and to view the inability to visit a campus in person as an opportunity to take a deeper dive into more meaningful criteria. Revisiting campus in normal times is much like an admissions tour: the college hauls out the bells and whistles and tries to dazzle young customers with spectacle and glitz.

When the visit must occur online, the opportunity for more substantive examination arrives.

I encourage this deeper look to start with departmental webpages. What are the actual courses you might be studying and who is teaching them? With COVID-19, faculty have more time on their hands to respond to emails and phone calls. What better way is there to learn about a department than interacting with its actual faculty?

Reaching out this way allows a student to forge a meaningful connection with the academic life of college, which sadly isn’t always the top criteria.

For a deeper look at a college’s social life, reach out to currently enrolled students from your high school. Laguna alumni also have a lot of time on their hands, and they are much more likely to offer candid viewpoints than the admissions office. How much time are they actually studying? Do they have any regrets? What is widely griped about? Much more will emerge here that’s not in an admissions brochure.

Finally, I encourage the process of choosing to be as rational as possible, guided by clear thinking and the input of trusted parties. Posting charts on the wall and making lists of pros and cons can help a student visualize the choices. Sometimes it’s as simple as going with the choice with the most pros, knowing no one college can ever provide everything a person wants.

— Matt Struckmeyer is Laguna Blanca School director of college counseling.