Virtual Campus Tours
As you’re narrowing down your college list this summer, you are likely thinking about what it would be like to actually be on campus. Summer can be a time for college visits, but with a limited amount of time, along with your summer responsibilities, squeezing in more than a few may be tough. However, with colleges having an increased presence online through their websites and on social media, it’s now possible to get a feel for a college virtually.
Nothing can replace a college visit, and having a student feel, “I can see myself here”, or “I don’t think this is for me”. College is a huge investment, and most of us wouldn’t make a large purchase without first seeing and feeling the item we are purchasing up close. But time and finances limit most families to a handful of in-person visits, so using online tours to narrow the list can be very beneficial.
When trying to decide which schools to visit in person and which schools to visit online, I recommend students start by visiting a variety of colleges within driving distance. Many students feel they would never want to attend college so close to home, but once they are on campus, recognize it is a great fit; and that moving out to attend college is moving out, no matter how far or close to home. Just as importantly, visiting a variety of schools (large research universities, small liberal arts college, public colleges, religiously-affiliated colleges, specialized colleges, etc.) gives students a chance to understand what they like and don’t like before investing in far-off travel plans.
Next, I would take a hard look at the student’s college list, and do some research to determine the student’s current top choices and to ascertain which schools care about demonstrated interest. Many schools pay attention to demonstrated interest to gauge how likely a student is in attending a school. The higher the percentage of admitted students that accept a college’s offer (the retention rate), the higher the school’s rankings. There are a number of ways to demonstrate interest, but some schools place a lot of weight on the college visit. I would put those schools at the top of a student’s visit list (find out by asking the college directly or check out the admissions tab for a college in College Data).
For the schools on the list that a student is unsure about, are far away, and where interest can be demonstrated in other ways (visiting a rep at a college fair, at the student’s school, etc.), or for schools that do not consider demonstrated interest, I encourage students to use one or more of the following virtual tours:
Campustours.com: CampusTours offers a self-directed photo tour, campus maps, and videos posted by students about various aspects of a university.
Youinversity.com: A fast-paced video tour with music and graphics. College-age students (not enrolled at the college) show you around campus, provide statistics and show clips of students and administrators discussing the college.
Youvisit: YouVisit offers virtual walking tours of colleges. A virtual tour guide, similar to a student leading an on-campus tour, guides you to important sites around campus.
To get information about the student body, try these “gossip” websites (use them with caution, however, as students who take time to submit responses are usually very happy or very unhappy with the college)
Unigo: Unigo shares comments from current students on multiple college qualities, including intellectual life, political activism, professor accessibility and drug culture.
CollegeNiche: Niche is very similar to Unigo, but adds a letter grade for the college’s overall rating, as well as for the individual categories discussed by current students.
Find the one or two sites that you like best, and just stick with those for researching future schools. Happy “Traveling”.
Kristen Miller is an independent college counselor in Portland, Oregon. She is the founder and owner of College Bound & Ready and offers free consultations to 8th-11th grade students and parents.