With the onset of COVID-19, high school and college students alike lost in-person access to valuable resources for their education. For high school students going through the college search and admission process, one of the biggest losses was their ability to go on campus visits. Campus visits and colleges tours are an important part of the college admission process because they’re the best way to determine if a college feels like a good fit for you.
But colleges and universities weren’t about to let the pandemic stand in the way of showcasing what their schools have to offer for prospective students—enter the virtual college tour! While some colleges were already utilizing this valuable online tool, many more jumped on the opportunity when in-person visits were no longer a viable option. Though many schools have opened their doors to visitors once again, virtual campus tours remain a great way to stay safe and save money while exploring colleges. Take advantage and make the most of these valuable tools in your college search with this comprehensive guide.
Types of virtual college tours
When it comes to virtual college tours, there are three distinct approaches colleges take to showcase their campus and amenities. Some schools will utilize one of these options, while some will mix and match methods to give students a more wholistic look at life at their school. Here’s what to look for when exploring a college or university’s website.
Live virtual visits
Live virtual visits are your best bet to really get to know a college. With these events, you typically register online and tune in at a certain date and time—much like you would for an in-person tour. A representative of the college will take you (or a group of prospective students) on a walking tour of campus via livestream. This virtual touring method is beneficial because it gives you the ability to communicate with your tour guide and ask questions, either by directly speaking to them or through a text chat feature.
Self-guided virtual tours and maps
Most schools offer some sort of self-guided virtual tour and campus map either on their own website or through the popular virtual tour website YouVisit.com. These types of tours allow you to learn about and explore a school’s campus at your own pace through photos, program and location write-ups, videos, maps, and more. How extensive a virtual tour is will vary from school to school, but that alone can be a good indication of the value a college places on making sure prospective students have an accessible and comprehensive view of campus.
Pre-recorded video series
The last type of virtual tour you’ll come across are pre-recorded video series. These often fulfill a similar role to livestream guided tours. Students or admission representatives will be recorded going on a tour of the college’s campus to talk about features of the college, discuss popular programs, and show off certain buildings and locations. These pre-recorded tours make it easier to explore and learn because you can pause and play the videos at your own pace, but the major downside is the lack of chat feature and direct interaction with the person guiding the tour.
Related: COVID–19 and Virtual Campus Tours
Other virtual events to sign up for
The great thing about the various types of virtual tours is that most colleges offer multiple ways to learn more. If a school offers a pre-recorded video tour and you have questions to ask, they’ll also likely offer an information session or “open house.” Or if a college does offer a live guided tour for a large group of registrants, a follow-up Q&A may be offered so you can get answers to questions you didn’t have time to ask during the livestream. Here are the types of virtual events you should be looking for to supplement your research.
As previously discussed, guided virtual tours are the best version of a virtual campus visit. These offer a look at the college as close as you can get to visiting in person and allows you to chat and interact with the person giving the tour. But these tours aren’t just offered at all times. Be sure to research early so you can sign up for the virtual tours of the schools you’re most interested in, then create a schedule to keep on top of them all. You’ll be expected to tune in on a certain day at a certain time, so come prepared to ask questions and engage in the process!
Information sessions are helpful if you’ve just been exploring recorded video series and self-guided tours or maps. They allow you to sit down at an assigned time and talk to representatives from a college to ask questions and connect with someone who could help you in the admission process if you decide to apply to that school. Pay attention to the details, though, because some schools will offer individual sessions, groups sessions, or both. If you have the option, choose whichever feels more comfortable for you.
Current student Q&As
Q&A events with current students are something you should sign up for regardless of what type of touring you’ve been doing. A college’s students are the best representation of a school’s character, social life, and academic environment. If students seem enthusiastic and excited to talk with you and discuss their school, then it’s more likely to be a place you’ll thrive and want to be. So don’t skip out on these. It’s where you’ll get honest answers to your most important questions!
Related: How to Overcome Anxiety and Talk to College Students on Campus Tours
Explore virtual tours at your own pace
The beauty of virtual campus visits is the ability to go at your own pace and explore a lot more colleges than you could feasibly schedule in-person visits for—both time and money wise! Keep your research on track with these tips.
Make a research schedule
It’s easy to get lost in all the different offerings for virtual campus exploring, especially if you have a lot of colleges you’re interested in. As you’re signing up for events and figuring out what type of virtual tours each school offers, create a research schedule for yourself. Mark down any guided tours, information sessions, or Q&As you’ve registered for that require you to attend on a certain day. From there, you can fill in other blocks of time to sit down and explore self-guided tour or video series options.
Take notes as you go
Regardless of what type of touring you’re doing, you should be taking notes! Virtual campus visits can throw a lot of information at you all at once, and it can get overwhelming. Taking notes will keep you focused on the things that are most important to you—be it academic programs, athletics, campus organizations, or anything else. These notes will also guide your decision-making later when you’re narrowing down your list and making your final college decision.
Compare your likes and dislikes of each college
Using the notes you’ve taken, make a pros and cons list for each college you toured, then compare them to the pros and cons of other colleges. This will give you a better idea of which colleges most comprehensively adhere to all your wants and needs. From there, you can narrow down your larger list of schools to just the ones you’ll apply to. (Most students tend to apply to anywhere from four to 10 colleges on average.)
Related: 7 Ways to Narrow Down Your List of College Choices
Reach out to admission to ask questions
Whether you’ve been going on guided virtual sessions, exploring maps and interactive tours, or missed the opportunity to sign up for information sessions, the admission office is always there to help you and answer questions. Why? Because they want to support you and hope their college is a great fit for you! Here are some common things you should connect with admissions about.
Ask about things you feel were missing
Colleges and universities are always looking for feedback on ways they can improve how they showcase their school to prospective students. If you felt like there was a lack of information in the research and touring you’ve done for a certain school, reach out to them to ask about it and suggest they include that information in their virtual offerings if you think it’s something other students will benefit from.
Ask for more information on specific programs
Some colleges have a lot of programs, so it’s impossible to cover them all with a virtual tour. In fact, a lot of schools will either skip over program-specific information and cover only general features and amenities of their schools or highlight just their most popular programs. If the major you’re interested in isn’t covered, do some further research on their website, then reach out to the admission office with additional questions or ask them which faculty you should contact from that program’s department.
Ask about connecting with students and alumni
If a school you’re interested in doesn’t offer virtual Q&As with students, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have designated students (and even alumni) who are willing to talk to prospective students. If you’d like an idea of what current student or postgrad career life is like for people who attend a certain school, email an admission officer and see if they can connect you with someone you can have a conversation with.
Set up in-person tours for colleges you’re most interested in
Obviously, the purpose of virtual campus tours is to make college visits more attainable and safe for a larger pool of prospective students—but they still can’t replace the experience of physically visiting a school. And since we’ve been living through the pandemic for a while now, a lot of colleges and universities have modified their in-person campus visit options to ensure the safety of staff and students. If it’s possible for you, try to set up safe in-person visits for only the colleges you’re most interested in. Your previous research should give you an idea of which colleges these are. Attend masked-up and see if the campus is really as impressive as it seems online!
Related: 7 Smart Things You Should Do on Your Next Campus Visit
The pandemic has taken a lot away from students, but it has also presented the opportunity to find alternative ways to access important resources. Take advantage of these new opportunities to explore your colleges of interest and make the college search process a little more fun and less stressful. At the end of the road will be an amazing school that will set you up for a bright future.
Ready to start exploring online to find the best-fit school for you? We’ve made it easy with our brand-new list of CollegeXpress Featured Colleges With Virtual Tours!