Virtual Campus Visits – a necessity rather than a choice this summer
Those who aren’t able to visit colleges and universities in person are at much less of a disadvantage than they were a few years ago and, year by year, virtual tours are getting better. It’s particularly difficult and expensive for overseas students to visit colleges that are several thousand miles away and that can also be spread over long distances, even after they arrive in their destination country. Moreover, in 2020, the option just isn’t there, certainly for many months to come.
It has to be said that virtual tours are not the same as actually being on campus, in terms of the personal contact and the intangible ‘feel’ that you can get when making a visit in person.
However, you can argue that, apart from saving a lot of money, time and organization, virtual tours have their own advantages:
It doesn’t rain and you don’t need to factor in the influence of bad weather, ‘clouding’ your judgement (sorry, poor pun).
You don’t have to wait for a holiday period and can do these at a time that is in sync with the rest of your research.
You can include more members of your family than might be the case on an overseas trip. You can also do them with a friend and exchange opinions.
You can go back and do it again – or go back to check out specific details or locations.
Because it is free, it is more accessible to those who might not otherwise be able to afford a traditional college tour. In other words, it’s a socio-economic leveller.
You can often cover more of a campus than is possible on a traditional tour.
What forms do they take and where do you find them?
Virtual Walking Tour
Virtual Reality Experience
These are in a rough order of adoption by colleges and of technical sophistication. The video is not interactive and, in some cases, now looks a bit jaded. At the other end of the spectrum, the virtual reality experience requires a VR Headset.
You can often find one or more of these on the college or university’s own website but there are also some ‘general’ websites that allow you to search colleges for these, some of which produce their own virtual experience.
Three of the better ones that I’ve found for the USA are:
Campus Tours at campustours.com
YouVisit at youvisit.com/collegesearch/
Campus 360 at campus360.org
In the UK, Open Days are a popular form of Campus visit and virtual versions are found on:
UCAS - https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/what-and-where-study/open-days-and-events/virtual-tours
This page links to individual universities where the design and interactivity of these tours varies a good deal.
Using these and then checking the college/university website will ensure that you reap the greatest benefit in terms of your virtual experience.
What about the conversations you can have on a campus visit with both admissions staff and students? These are useful for both gathering information and demonstrating your interest.
You may need to be both proactive and imaginative in finding alternatives here:
Look out for Virtual College Fairs and Webinars where you might be able to interact with admissions staff.
Do you have relatives or friends attending that college or who recently graduated that you can get in touch with? If not check out the local alumni association of your chosen college or university: you may be surprised how many are very recent graduates, keen to chat about their alma mater.
You can, of course, use the contact details of admissions staff on college/university websites to ask questions – just make sure that your questions are authentic and not ones that could easily be answered by searching the website.
Some colleges and universities will have links for you to contact current students, perhaps but not always in a particular subject area, on their websites. Although they are often called student ambassadors and are clearly there to put the college in a good light, don’t reject this option as it will still offer an additional perspective.
There is at least one App out there that facilitates conversations with current students and allows you to search them by institution, subject and nationality. ‘Unibuddy’ covers the UK (through ucas.com) well, Europe quite well but has, to date, a limited number of US colleges on board.
These virtual resources are only likely to proliferate and improve in quality over the current Covid-19 crisis and for a considerable period beyond, as families remain cautious about overseas travel. Take the opportunity and enjoy the sunny weather on every campus!