How to Get the Most Out of Virtual College Tours

How to Get the Most Out of Virtual College Tours

Virtual campus tours, which many schools initially implemented to keep up with technological developments, became necessary once the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the normal flow of the college research process.

Now, college admissions and marketing professionals say virtual campus tours are an essential part of college search. Using 360-degree video and virtual reality, colleges are able to welcome students to campus hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

“I think virtual tours can be a great screening or preview for students who may have never seen the campus,” says Kristi Lafree, director of enrollment marketing at Butler University in Indiana, which offers a 360 degree video tour as well as additional videos. “They may want to do a bowel exam. They want to make sure that if they come to visit us, it will be worth it.”

Hundreds of US universities now offer prospective students virtual tours on the web, with interactive photos and videos designed to be compatible on all devices. Some schools even use virtual reality, although VR headsets are required for these experiences.

University officials say they hope the virtual tours will give students a sense of what university life is like at school, from the architecture to the activities. Students can dive deep into exploring buildings and parts of campus that might not be covered as deeply on a standard in-person campus tour, says Joffery Gaymon, vice president of enrollment management at the University. Auburn, Alabama, which offers a 360 degree virtual tour. on its website as well as a video of a student-led tour.

Thanks to a virtual tour, students can move from the commercial building to the student union, or from the sports facilities to the residence halls. A general in-person tour may not include a tour of the student newspaper building, but an aspiring journalism student may be able to tour it online.

Virtual tours have become an essential tool for attracting international students who might not be able to visit campus in person, Gaymon says. Auburn has about 2,500 international students, visiting scholars, and employees from 100 different countries each year, according to the school.

“It’s a way for them to dive a little deeper and have a greater sense of familiarity with college as they explore the options,” she says.

The University of California, Berkeley also offers 360 degree virtual tours for prospective students. The school used to post YouTube videos and virtual Q&A sessions, but has since moved to a platform called YouVisit, which is used by about 700 schools across the country. Virtual visits have proven to be a game-changer for admissions, says La Dawn Duvall, executive director of visitor and parent services at Berkeley.

Students visiting Berkeley can start at the center of campus with a virtual guide providing information about the school while exploring at their own pace. Over the past year, Duvall said more than 22,000 unique visitors have taken a general virtual tour of the school, with about 3,000 other specific sites around campus available on YouVisit, including residence halls and buildings. academics.

Auburn averages nearly 30,000 virtual visitors, including students living in India, China, Canada and Brazil, and about 25,000 in-person visitors per school year, Gaymon says.

These numbers suggest just how important virtual tours have become for schools at all levels, Duvall says. In minutes, students and families can visit a school in California and then travel to an East Coast school, saving hours in the car or thousands in airfare and hotel costs. which can allow families to plan other visits.

Lafree says she expects these trends to continue, even if in-person visits resume.

“The demand for this virtual admissions visit really hasn’t diminished at all, so there’s no going back to pre-COVID for college admissions,” she says.

Well-produced virtual college tours also offer a pizzazz that experts say prospective students may not see in other marketing materials. For schools that use virtual reality, it provides an immersive experience; users feel that they are in this environment.

Prospective college athletes don’t need to visit an actual campus to get a good idea of ​​what the school and its sports facilities are like, says Zvi Goffer, co-founder of CampusVR, the platform used by a certain number of universities and university sports departments. for VR tours. This has been especially beneficial for schools and athletes, as transfers from the National Collegiate Athletic Conference have become more frequent, as it allows athletes to take an unofficial visit to a school without having to leave their living room, says- he.

“It’s going to become the norm,” Goffer says. “Visualization, although some people want to fight this trend, there is simply no substitute.”

But universities are also aware that prospective students seek authenticity, even through virtual experiences and in social media, says Alexa Heinrich, social media manager at St. Petersburg College in Florida.

Lafree says high school students are aware that virtual tours and other school-produced content are meant to be marketing tools, so they also check a school’s TikTok, Instagram and YouTube pages to find content to share. the first person generated by the user from other students.

Many students have started using social media apps the same way they might use a search engine, Heinrich says, and experts say visiting social media channels is a good way for students to learn the most out of a school’s virtual audit. With that in mind, Heinrich says some schools have started doing “student takeovers” on their social media pages, where students show off what a typical day on campus looks like for the average student.

Prospective students crave something “that feels a little less robotic,” she says.

“Social media plays a huge role in showing what student life and campus life will be like,” says Heinrich. “We can email and tell you about the affordability of our college, but social media will do its best when we show students that they value their experience at our college.”

According to a March 2022 report on joint applications, potential students are applying to more schools, which showed that the number of applications submitted increased by 21.3% between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022. (That includes data from 853 member schools.) With shortlists longer than ever, students can use virtual tours to weigh the options.

Campus officials advise prospective students to use the virtual tour as a starting point, then weigh academic programs, admission requirements and other factors that will shape students’ experiences at school. If students are interested in a specific program or activity, they should contact the school directly to gather more information.

“I would recommend taking their time and not just using the tour, but using the broader campus website, websites for your department or area of ​​academic interest – completing them together,” says Duvall. “Take information from all of these places, because none will give you everything you need to represent the experience.”

While college officials praise virtual tours as an option, they also encourage students to visit campus if possible. Gaymon says the function of a virtual college tour is to get a glimpse of campus life. Other questions are best reserved for the admissions office.

“The virtual visit does not replace the traditional visit”, she specifies. “For us, that really makes it better.”

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