How to Choose Colleges With Virtual Tours

By | May 1, 2020

With college campuses closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, free virtual tours have grown in popularity. High school juniors hoping to begin college in the fall of 2021 are not able to visit campuses in person, but they and their families have many ways to explore their options while staying safe at home.

Here is a guide to some of the tour sites that aim to help students feel as if they are walking around campuses. They can visit as many colleges as they like, without the cost of a road trip or the aching feet.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling provides information from more than 1,000 colleges and universities on changes to admissions processes resulting from the pandemic. The tool lets students get an overview of resources available at each institution, including links to virtual tours offered, said the association’s president, Jayne Caflin Fonash. “If someone only wants to know about schools in a certain state, or is only interested in finding out about standardized testing policies for the fall, they can drill down to get that information,” Dr. Fonash said.

StriveScan is offering the Strive Virtual College Exploration program through May 8 to take the place of in-person college fairs. Students get advice on how to write a college essay, apply for financial aid, and the chance to ask questions to officials from more than 450 colleges from 45 states and 13 countries — Canada, Britain, Ireland, Italy, France, Norway, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Belgium, Australia and Mexico. All sessions are taped, allowing students to download them. StriveScan’s president, Dan Saavedra, said more presentations will be held in the coming weeks, including one focusing on STEM schools and another on small, private liberal arts schools.

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There are several websites that allow students to tour and compare schools. These sites offer interactive maps, photos, videos and testimonials.

CampusTours offers tours of more than 1,800 schools in the United States as well as tours of schools in the United Kingdom, Canada, China and France. Its advanced search feature allows students to fine-tune details they are searching for, such as how much tuition they want to pay. About 100 schools offer insights from enrolled students during parts of the tour on campus life, the company’s president, Christopher Carson, said. CampusTours is also working on a feature to allow students to ask questions while they are on the tour that are sent to college officials, he added.

YouVisit offers tours of more than 600 U.S. schools. The tours offer prompts that pop up asking students for input that is sent to college officials to respond, an attempt to replicate the questions and answers that come up during in-person tours. YouVisit also offers students to tour using “virtual reality” tools. “There is nothing that replaces that in-person experience that makes a student fall in love with a campus, but the goal of a virtual tour is to do as much as it can to replace those moments,” said Emily Bauer, vice president for agency services for EAB, the education research and technology company that owns YouVisit.

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The Chicago HBCU Alumni Alliance is offering virtual fairs in which nearly 50 H.B.C.U.s give students information on admissions, programs and scholarships. Videotapes of the events will be available on the alliance’s website in the coming weeks. The alliance’s president, Danielle James, said more virtual fairs are planned for the summer.

StriveScanalso featured presentations from several H.B.C.U.s.

YoUniversity: Students can click on tabs such as “safest campuses,” “most diverse campuses” and “top academic colleges,” as well as “best campus food” and “coolest dorms.”

CampusReel: Students enrolled at colleges can upload their videos to this site for sharing, after being vetted. Students or parents must register to join.

The Gap Year Association offers videos on what it means to take a gap year and is building a new student membership platform — a nominal fee will be required to join — that will give students access to weekly calls to learn about gap year opportunities, said the association’s executive director, Ethan Knight. The website also offers information on accredited gap year programs and counselors.

Virtual tours, like the ones at YouVisit, can put students in the stands or on the playing field to get a simulated experience of being an athlete there. CampusTours has a feature that lets students find sports offered at various schools.

This is the time to start making personal outreach to schools, Mr. Carson of CampusTours said. “You can’t rely on virtual tours to tell you everything about the institution, you need to reach out to the schools themselves.” Traditionally, students have been told that some colleges rank in-person visits as a show of “demonstrated interest.” This year that could take different forms, like emailing professors and admissions officers or attending Zoom meetings. “Demonstrated interest is very valuable,” Mr. Carson said. “Make personalized phone calls and write emails.”

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