Virtual campus tours are undoubtedly a unique experience for prospective college students. They offer a great opportunity to learn more about a school if you can’t physically visit, but unfortunately, beautiful, sensorial moments—like the smell of lemon poppyseed muffins wafting from the cafeteria, the sight of academic buildings soaring into the sky, or the sound of laughter as students walk across campus—can’t be experienced through a computer screen. With this new way of learning about colleges, it’s important to understand what to look for when evaluating whether a college is the right fit for you. Here are a few things to look for and questions to prepare for your next virtual campus experience or information session.
1. A feel for the campus environment
A campus’s environment is one of the most important factors in deciding whether to attend a particular college. If you don’t see yourself fitting in on the campus that the virtual tour is presenting to the public, that may be a sign that this college does not meet your needs. But how can you decide whether you see yourself there if you can only see the grounds on a screen? It’s important to place yourself in the shoes of a student already attending that college. As the virtual tour takes you around campus, do you see the surroundings as a welcoming environment? As the student ambassadors speak about their school, do they sound genuine? What are some specific things they enjoy about this college? Every college is different, and the students on the virtual tour should relay the feel of the school since you can’t experience it for yourself at the moment.
There are many different aspects of campus life—like sororities and fraternities, special-interest clubs, and other student organizations—that add to a school’s environment. If you’re able to have a question-and-answer session with a real student, ask them how they get involved at this school (now and pre-COVID-19): What weekend activities are there? What campus events do students participate in? What’s the school spirit like? Dive deep into these meaningful questions, because they allow you to get a broader perspective of the campus environment and everything that makes up the community.
Related: College Organizations and Activities Worth Getting Excited Over
2. Classes and academic life
Although every adult says that college is for the experience—to meet new people, join clubs, make new friends, and just have fun—most importantly, you’re there to receive a good education. When evaluating a college’s academics, you should look at everything from class size to unique programs and internships available at a school. In terms of class size, do you want a more one-on-one learning setting that gives you increased attention? Or do you see yourself at a big university with hundreds of people in each class? In addition to class size, you should also ask student representatives about professor availability. Are the professors easily accessible at the college after class or during office hours? Lastly, in terms of the course load, ask yourself what type of challenge you’re looking to receive academically. What are the most rigorous courses like when you enroll in them, and is the coursework manageable? A student, professor, or department head may be available to connect with to answer these questions, so be sure to inquire as you explore a college’s website.
3. Campus services and resources
Pay attention to the facilities highlighted by each student ambassador on your virtual tour. There are many different questions you can ask that won’t have obvious answers on a school’s website. In terms of academics, are there writing and math centers to help you with essays and homework? Are there nice, quiet study spots? Beyond academics, what other services does the school offer? Does the school have counselors if you need one? What are the health facilities like to those injured or sick on campus? You’ll be living at this college for four or more years, so it’s important to check off all these boxes, even if it may seem like an insignificant factor in your final decision.
Related: Make the Most of Campus Services During the Pandemic
4. Location and climate
Outside of the actual campus, it’s vital to consider the location of the college itself. There may be a myriad of opportunities offered on campus, but beyond these, you want to look at what there is off campus as well. Researching the local area can help you narrow down whether you want to attend that school. Take into consideration whether there are nearby cities or towns, or if the school is located in a more rural area. Do you want a quiet place that’s more remote, or do you want to be smack-dab in the middle of a bustling city with new sights and sounds around every corner? Ask students where they like to go off campus to help place yourself in their shoes and see if this is an environment that interests you.
The weather is a component as well: if you’re from sunny SoCal looking at East Coast schools, you want to consider the vastly different climates. Do you like the snow? Rain? Sunshine? Consider each season and ask students what they really experience. The virtual tour may show a beautiful campus green and fall foliage, but the campus might be covered in two feet of snow for most of the year!
5. Above everything else: Food!
I’m partly kidding when I say this, but food is actually a big factor when considering a college. Although you may not be able to physically taste those lemon poppyseed muffins on a virtual tour, Brown University students will make it known that they have the best muffins there are to offer. In addition, some campuses may be located further from cities with endless restaurant options, so the on-campus food may be your only choice. It’s definitely worth asking what dining is like during your virtual tour—inquire about cafeteria options, campus specialties, dietary accommodations, and more.
Related: What You Need to Know About College Meal Plans
While virtual campus visits are certainly helpful, they can’t outline the entire experience at a college. These questions and considerations will help you get a broader sense of a school, but it’s important to not base your opinion solely on these tours. Use them to learn more about your options and narrow down your college list, and hopefully you’ll be able to physically visit before you make your final college decision. Good luck!
Looking for more questions and advice to help you navigate your virtual or in-person college tours? Explore our Campus Visits section!