Past posts to this blog have extolled the high value of visits to the campuses of colleges that you’re interested in attending. Visits reveal more useful information about a college than all other sources of information combined. In the past, we’ve advised you on ways to assure that you’ll derive maximum benefit from your visits.
Now, however, you’re coping with the closure of colleges due to the pandemic. If you’re a junior aspiring to begin college in the fall of 2021, you need to pursue alternative ways to explore colleges. Virtual tours are almost up to the task of replacing actual visits to campuses.
People rely on sight more than any other sense. Virtual tours are visual, but only in two dimensions. And you can’t register the true ambience of a place if you can’t hear the sounds and smell the smells. To compensate with the inherent disadvantages of virtual tours, colleges, through technology services providers, have made great strides in bridging the experiential gap between the real and the digital.
Virtual touring has improved with the advent of virtual reality technology and drones. Colleges are pulling out all the stops to show off their lecture halls, green spaces, libraries, performance venues, and laboratories. According to Dionne Searcey of the New York Times (April 28, 2020), features of virtual visits include, “Virtual coffees with college students for high school juniors. Zoom sessions between applicants and admissions officers. Student guides offering welcoming messages in video selfies and scenic views of university campuses captured by drones.”
Examples of What Some Colleges Are Doing:
- Vanderbilt is matching high school juniors with current students for virtual coffee meetings,
- Baylor is allowing high school students to take online courses this summer and posting dozens of selfies from faculty and students offering personal insights into the school,
- University of Virginia’s website offers virtual dormitory tours and provides the floor plans of residence halls,
- One of Yale’s Zoom presentations features a student living with her family in Singapore who stays up until midnight to serve on a Q&A panel for prospective applicants in the United States,
- At UC-Santa Barbara, a student gives a guided tour of her residence hall that includes a visit to the laundry room — a scene unlikely to be included in on-site college tours,
- At Agnes Scott College students can visit a range of academic and other facilities, including the quad, a dining hall, the main library, science labs, and dormitory rooms, as a means to attract students with the college’s beautiful campus — even if only in video,
- At UC-Berkeley, a virtual “Cal Week” is replacing in-person events for freshmen by featuring previously recorded live events,
- At Fordham, students are offered virtual “live” events in which they receive, via streaming video, a personalized tour of the campus conducted by a current student using a smartphone, and,
- Davidson is connecting high school students with current students for “virtual coffees”. The college arranges one-on-one or group video chats with students, faculty, and staff. A potential applicant can be connected with a faculty member with expertise in her planned major.
Technology Services Providers:
A number of third-party technology services providers have been active in the virtual tour space for years. Firms with innovative features for admissions-related events such as college fairs are also present in this market. A few of the major providers are described below.
- YouVisit offers virtual tours in conjunction with more than 600 colleges. The tours have pop-up prompts for students with questions that are forwarded to admissions officials for response in an online replication of the Q&A sessions that follow in-person tours.
- CampusTours offers tours of more than 1,800 schools in the United States as well as tours of schools in the United Kingdom, Canada, China and France. Its advanced search feature allows students to filter for things like tuition costs and degrees offered. Many of the schools feature personal insights from students as part of the tour.
- StriveScan offers the Strive Virtual College Exploration program to substitute for in-person college fairs. Students get advice on how to write college essays and apply for financial aid. Students may address questions to the admissions officials of 450 colleges from 45 states and 13 countries. Sessions are recorded, enabling students to download them for subsequent viewing.
- YoUniversity is a virtual tour website on which students select tabs such as “safest campuses,” “most diverse campuses”, “top academic colleges,” “best campus food”, and “coolest dorms.” They are then provided with virtual tours of the colleges on those lists.
- CampusReel enables students currently enrolled at a college to upload their videos for sharing with potential applicants after vetting by the college. Students must register as free members in order to view the videos.
- PlatformQ Education conducts virtual admitted student events. These range from newly admitted student events to orientation programs in late summer. They also combine on-demand content with virtual “live” presentations as a substitute for information sessions on campus.
After you’ve taken a number of virtual tours and narrowed down your list of colleges, start reaching out personally to individuals at colleges. You can’t rely solely on virtual tours to tell you everything you need to know. Traditionally, many colleges have considered in-person visits to be a show of “demonstrated interest”, which they value as an admissions factor. In the year of the pandemic, demonstrated interest must take different forms such as emailing or calling faculty and admissions officers, in addition to attending the college’s virtual tour and meeting offerings.
Louis Educational Consulting is fully prepared to assist you in successfully applying to the colleges that fit you best even during these extraordinary times. Our diligence in remaining well informed of the rapidly evolving admissions milieu relieves you of this burden. We enable you to focus on your personal educational and career goals.