Jing Jiang / Sun Senior Photographer

What previously would have been Cornell Days and campus tours have been replaced by Minecraft and Vlogs, as students make college decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

April 20, 2020

Minecraft and Vlogs: Students Navigate College Decisions in Quarantine

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Hours of exploring Minecraft and watching YouTube vlogs: the Class of 2024’s new essential steps in deciding the college of their choice? Under quarantine, these sorts of unconventional methods have begun to replace traditional college tours and campus visits.

After the University canceled all campus tours and other in-person campus events, including Cornell Days 2020, thousands of admitted students are faced with choosing a place to spend their next four years without having stepped foot on a single campus.

Beyond taking advantage of virtual campus tours that the University provides, prospective students may also have the opportunity to explore Cornell’s campus on Minecraft, a video game where users can build structures in a blocky 3D world.

Though not an official initiative taken by the University’s admissions team, a Reddit post titled “Calling all Minecrafters” is looking to gather student volunteers to build a 1:1 scale map of the University. The replica is planned to include everything from detailed elevation data to exact streets and paths.

The project mimics similar undertakings by Hunter College High School and the Bronx High School of Science in New York City, where students spent hours creating models of their schools.

“I definitely feel like a 1:1 model of Cornell’s campus on Minecraft is gonna take a tremendous amount of effort,” said Andrew Zhang ’24, an incoming freshman who helped work on the Hunter replica and will be attending the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“It took weeks to replicate a single high school building,” Zhang said. “An entire campus will be a great challenge.”

According to Zhang, building a virtual replica of his school was cathartic. Being able to mimic smaller details such as the food carts on the street was a great way to look back at days before the pandemic forced students indoors.

College “vlogs” — a portmanteau of video blogs — have also become an important resource for potential students, showing Cornell students in their day-to-day experiences attending classes and hanging out with friends.

One of these vloggers is Jessica Sun ’23, School of Hotel Administration student, who uploads college-related content to her YouTube channel.

“Through my videos, I’m able to talk much more candidly about campus life, without feeling the need to tone down how great my school is,” Sun said. “I can also discuss aspects I don’t particularly like with equal openness.”

Sun enjoyed reaching students through her content and received positive feedback from her audience — several viewers have personally reached out to her, thanking her for helping them decide whether a certain program was the best fit for them.

Despite the uncharted waters, committing to Cornell without having visited its campus is not necessarily a novelty.

“I actually committed to Cornell before actually visiting,” said Morgan Bloch ’20. “I spent time on the different Cornell web pages and more specifically the Human Ecology page by looking at what courses my major entailed, as well as reading about the professors.”

Bloch recommended directly reaching out to students to ask for their thoughts about the school, both the good and the bad. She added that this helped her receive honest opinions about Cornell and Ithaca. According to Bloch, this would also help prospective students meet current students, giving them a sense of what their peers might be like.

A number of admitted students are also turning to online forums like Reddit, seeking candid opinions from current students and alumni about everything from their perspective on the University’s academic rigor to an honest review of its party scene.

Subreddits like r/Cornell and r/ApplyingToCollege are seeing an increase of posts from indecisive admitted students looking for general advice on their college decisions, or even major-specific questions. Such posts are often met with in-depth responses from current students, who offer their personalized perspectives of their school.

These perspectives will become more important as the May 1 deadline for submitting a deposit looms closer for prospective students.