Parents, once you and your college-bound student have created a working list of no more than 12 colleges, it will be time plan a virtual college road trip. That’s right, before you pack the snacks and spend lots of money taking a college road trip, you should take a virtual campus tour. Many college-bound students don’t consider public colleges that are more than 50-miles from home. In fact, over 5 million people live 45-minutes away from any higher education institution. And 31 million have access to only one public school. So a virtual campus tour could help your student find the right college – that they may have never considered otherwise.
Think about it this way: When you are ready to look for in a new house in a new city several hours away, you won’t just drive down random streets looking for houses to buy. You’ll spend time reviewing the listings online to see floorplans, backyards, neighborhoods, and comments about the local area. This is a virtual real estate tour. Let’s do the same for college and consider 3 benefits of taking a virtual campus tour.
You Can Afford a Virtual Visit
For many prospective college students and their families, visiting colleges is a challenging and expensive trip to take. A 2019 survey by Niche showed that rural, suburban, and urban high school students visited at least 3 colleges; some as many as 7. Virtual visits pave the way for college road trips.
Students may live in rural parts of the country without access to a major airport. In addition, flying out of a regional airport to multiple sites may be cost prohibitive.
Students may live in urban areas. While mass transit makes it easier to get around town, it may not allow them to visit some colleges easily. Even in cities like Boston and New York City, where families can visit many colleges by taking the train, going outside of the city may not be possible.
Students may live in single-parent households which could limit the opportunities of visiting colleges far away, even if they seem to be a good fit. An inexpensive virtual campus tour allows prospective students to save lots of money by “visiting” many colleges from home. And if it’s raining, you can visit the dorm without having to get out in the storm.
You Can Picture Yourself on Campus Before You Take a Picture, of Yourself, on Campus
Doesn’t that sound like Austin Powers introducing himself? Students, taking a virtual campus visit is one of the best ways to “picture yourself” on campus. Virtual tours may include photos, 360-degree panoramic views, short videos, or virtually-guided tours. Some colleges may allow you to interact with current students, alumni, or professors.
While you can visit some colleges using the “street view” on Google maps, sites like YouVisit and CampusTours offer quality, self-guided, 360-degree panoramic views of various spots on campus that allows you to get a virtual feel for the surroundings. Each view includes a short description with a photo or video.
Unfortunately, not all colleges include a campus tour. On the CampusTours site, colleges without a virtual tour are redirected to a map on the college website.
Through the GEAR UP VR app, the University of North Carolina System created a 360-degree tour of their 16 universities that can be viewed on a desktop, mobile phone, or VR headset. One bonus feature of the VR tour is the opportunity to go inside the buildings, which is not always possible or allowed on the regular tours.
You Can Hear First-Hand Stories
eCampusTours and YOUniversityTV include interviews from students, alumni, and faculty to give you a first-hand account of their college experience. These personal stories allow you to “hear” the campus. eCampusTours has a library of 1,300 colleges along with a general info page with information about the college, admissions, student body, programs, and cost. YOUniversityTV allows users to favorite or share the college tour. A host will narrate your tour and conduct interviews. In some videos, admissions officers shared who they were looking for as a potential candidate.
While many colleges produce virtual tours, some may also offer tours of the dining halls and dorm rooms like the University of Oklahoma.
If you don’t have time to look at multiple sites, I would recommend starting with CampusTours. The visually appealing tours are produced professionally, include a short description of the featured area, links back to the college, and encourages students to apply.
Just be aware that these “free” campus tour sites may have featured colleges scrolling on top along with paid ads on the side. For example, YOUniversity requires viewers to watch a commercial for a sponsored college before watching your selected college.
Once you’ve watched virtual tours of your preferred colleges, you can plan your road trip and ask well-informed and thoughtful questions. Now about those snacks!
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.