The Reality of Virtual College Tours
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College tours have always been an integral part of the application process. By providing crucial information such as majors offered, academic requirements, and more, these tours help applicants decide what schools best fit their individual profile. Since they are led by current college students, the tours also give visiting applicants and their families a chance to see up-close what student life outside of classes is like. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, college tours have dramatically changed. As a result, colleges have had to either give virtual college tours or organize tours with significantly smaller group sizes and additional protocols.
Junior Aryan Ruparel did a virtual tour of Binghamton University School of Management, a public university in upstate New York. A Binghamton student “led” the attendees around the campus on a zoom webinar. “It was really helpful because there was someone walking around campus and showing us where things were, including the cafeteria, dorms, and offices,” he said. “I preferred this form of viewing colleges over using the virtual tour on websites, because you feel as if you are in the school.”
On the other hand, junior Katelan Balkissoon had a completely different experience with virtual tours. She described her tours as ineffective in capturing the “vibe” of the school. “They mostly talked about the history of the campus and the courses offered, but I was looking for information about the life on campus. They did discuss the school’s history and main principles, which are important but not my main interest,” she said. “To be honest, the virtual tour experiences had no impact on my views of the schools. They didn’t dissuade me from wanting to attend, but they didn’t help me either.”
Some students have had the privilege of attending in-person tours before and during the pandemic. During the pandemic, senior Anna Frid was able to tour American University, University of Pittsburgh, and SUNY Albany. “We couldn’t enter most of the buildings, masks were required, [and] we had our temperatures checked any time we did enter a building,” she said. However, colleges found solutions to problems such as not being allowed to enter buildings and limited tour sizes. “The University of Pittsburgh had a model of a typical freshman dorm set up elsewhere, and they had small groups of only admitted students, which helped streamline the tour,” Frid explained. Although Frid did not feel as though these tours helped her pick a college, they did solidify her choice.
Frid also shared some tips she picked up doing virtual college visits. “I recommend taking a virtual tour of the dorms on YouTube in addition to directly from the school. It gives you a better feel for the size and set up of dorms and other common spaces compared to in-person tours,” she advised. She also suggests that students come prepared with questions so that they can compare schools more easily.
However, as with all types of tours, improvements can be made to college tours. “I’d suggest separating admitted students tours from prospective students tours, since what people want to know can be really different, and separating them streamlines the tour really efficiently,” Frid expressed.
Though the tours currently being offered by colleges aren’t perfect, they do their best to give prospective students a better grasp of campus life and a more complete picture of the school. Most importantly, tours bring students one step closer to figuring out their perfect college and provide them guidance when deciding where they want to spend the next four years of their lives.