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Virtual college tours are quickly becoming a reality for many prospective students. Sure, there’s nothing that can compare to the experience of an in-person, feet-on-the-ground visit to your preferred colleges, but even before the COVID era, the cost of travel and lodging made campus visits prohibitive for many.
How much can you really learn about a college without paying an IRL visit? As it turns out, there are a variety of ways to find out what you need to know. There’s no need to travel—or invest in a virtual reality headset—to find resources that can help you figure out whether a school is a good fit for you.
First, though, do your online legwork and create a shortlist of the schools that interest you. Without taking a full-blown virtual tour, you can see the highlights of just about any college or university campus in a YouTube orientation video or on Instagram. For easy access to key data on schools, with links to their official videos and Instagram accounts, try a site like CampusTours, which provides easy access to such resources—plus virtual tours where available—along with quick information on admission requirements, tuition and degrees.
Sites like YouVisit offer a more sophisticated virtual tour—for instance, Vanderbilt’s tour includes a student guide who leads you right into their Financial Aid office, and describes their principal aid package offerings. Another student guide on their YouVisit virtual tour takes you to Kirkland Hall, where the nursing school is located. While the student relates the history of Mary Kirkland Hall, the page also provides access to maps and 360 panoramic photo displays of the interior. Already own a Virtual Reality mask? Check out the “…” icon at the bottom of the screen!
But what do most prospective students really want to find out, and what is the value of a virtual tour? Stephanie Harff, assistant vice president of marketing and recruitment at the University of South Florida, told US News and World Report that “typically students want to know five things about a college before applying: Admissions requirements, what the application process is like, the cost to attend, what majors a school offers and what campus life is like. To her, the key function of a virtual college tour is to get a look at campus life. Other questions are best reserved for the admissions office.” Another expert tip: email those questions to the admissions office. Asking questions is a great way to display serious interest and improve your chances of acceptance.
If you’re just starting to explore likely schools, before you take off on a virtual tour a good place to begin your search is the College Confidential site. For an in-depth look at the whole school selection process, see this article in Town and Country.