Explore UT should have a virtual option every year

Ezra Gomez

As the fall of 2021 closes in, many incoming freshmen and transfer students are excited to hit the ground running and learn about all of the incredible aspects of UT. Unfortunately, COVID-19 creates the restriction of not being able to see campus in person with thousands of other students at the annual Explore UT event.

However, this year the Explore UT team was able to put together an immersive and comprehensive replacement: the very first virtual Explore UT event. Students, parents and educators were able to attend many online events, including fun chemistry events, lectures from current students about the pros and cons of certain majors, and virtual art exhibits that bettered their understanding of what being a part of UT means. 

In addition to the traditional in-person option, virtual Explore UT should be continued for years to come as it was helpful not only for health and safety reasons, but as a more flexible way to learn about UT without having to physically travel to Austin.

University Events communications manager Laurel O’Connor said it is difficult to pin down a certain plan for how Explore UT should be handled in the years to come.

“We don’t necessarily want to box ourselves in too much in committing to going one way or another, especially with just how unpredictable things have been,” O’Connor said. “But we have gotten such positive responses from people, especially people who attended the in-person Explore UT in previous years and attended (the virtual event) this year.”

O’Connor also mentioned that with a lack of resources, being able to do both an in-person and a virtual version of Explore UT simultaneously could prove to be very challenging.

However, students who do not live near the Austin area or cannot find the time or money to visit UT when deciding what college to attend would continue to benefit from an online tour, even when the risks of COVID-19 have subsided. Additionally, it would be worth it for students to find their own at-home materials to participate in Explore UT if it meant they didn’t have to spend more money on travel.

Undeclared freshman Cadey Benton, who is from Maryland, wanted to go someplace out of state but wasn’t able to see campus beforehand due to the distance coupled with COVID-19.

“I got lucky that I ended up loving UT anyway, but I really would’ve liked being able to see the campus in a more detailed way and actually engage with each school before making my decision,” Benton said in a direct message. “Having an online, interactive experience would’ve helped me feel more comfortable coming to college as well, because it wouldn’t have been my first time seeing everything and trying to navigate without any real prior knowledge of campus or campus activities.”

As more and more aspects of life are normalized with an increase in vaccinations and the COVID-19 curve slowly flattening, finding what did and did not make UT a more enjoyable place during the pandemic will be crucial. 

The virtual Explore UT was such a stellar success that it should be deemed a necessity every year, at least in some capacity, alongside the regular in-person Explore UT.

Gomez is a journalism freshman from Lewisville, Texas.