Virtual College Tours: Are They Worth It?

Virtual College Tours: Are They Worth It?

As a result of COVID-19, the entire college application process, school tours included, has changed.

Although on-campus tours are expected to resume in some form, and some have already done so, most colleges have not.

Virtual visits have been available for some time, but both schools and private companies have ramped up their virtual offerings to give prospective students a better sense of what life might be like at the school and in its surrounding areas. 

Most families say the best way to get a sense of the campus is to visit multiple virtual tour sites, since they offer different views of the same schools, including: student-led tours, dorms and classrooms, maps that show you how long it takes to get from one point to the other, and a guide to surrounding communities. 

 

Official Campus Tour Guides

Beyond the official school virtual tours, you can also try these private virtual tours:

Campus 360: https://campus360.org/en/

YouUniversityTV: https://www.youniversitytv.com/category/college/

Go See Campus: https://goseecampus.com/

You Visit: https://www.youvisit.com/collegesearch/

Campus Tours: https://campustours.com/

ECampusTours: http://www.ecampustours.com/

GoingIvy: https://goingivy.com/vr/

LCP360: https://www.lcp360.com/blog/virtual-reality-tours-for-colleges

EdNavigators: https://www.ednavigators.com/virtual-college-tours

Experts also recommend that you reach out to current or former students; speak to college counselors and ask them questions about your major, professors, schedules, dorm life, etc.; find the social media accounts for various clubs and campus organizations and read through them; and sign up for virtual information sessions, social events like coffee chats, and more. 

 

Virtual Tours On the Rise

In an article for Inside Higher Ed, Patricia Peek, dean of undergraduate admission at Fordham, said, “Fordham has seen 2,200 visitors take a virtual tour versus 730 for March and April of last year.” Some of their virtual events were attended by more than 3,000 people. 

In the same article, the research and technology firm EAB, said that “between March 13 and April 13, nearly 1.4 million people viewed a virtual campus tour produced by YouVisit. High school seniors are taking these tours at a rate 228 percent higher than they were at this time last year.”

Enthusiasm for the tours varies, however, as families debate whether these virtual options are enough. 

 

A Parent Asks About Benefits/Timing of Virtual Tours

A member of our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group recently asked:

Does anyone else have an incoming senior whose college visit activity has screeched to a halt because students feel “virtual visits” are overly curated and do not offer what is needed to help make decisions?

If so, is your student just going to apply to various places and hope to visit/narrow after applying? Any other advice?

Parent Responses (lightly edited for clarity and length)

 

Beware of Complainers

Lots of kids don’t visit until they are accepted. Especially when the school is far away. There are so many good sources to glean firsthand experience. This group especially: College Confidential and Niche. But keep in mind that a lot of people only comment when they have a complaint. So if it’s a recurring comment, there’s probably something to it, but if it’s just a one-time complainer, maybe not. Susan

Wait to Visit Campuses Until Acceptances Come In

The virtual visits are a waste, but there is enough information out there from reviews, data sets, and social media on which to base the decision of where to apply. Once they’re accepted, then visit. Kimberly

My daughter visited 4-5 campuses and assembled a list prior to COVID-19 based on major, geography, cost, public/private, size, city type, etc. Once we have a better idea of which colleges are requiring test scores and her stats, she will apply to about 10 schools. Once she gets accepted, she can narrow down to a few and we will visit then, but probably not until accepted. Christine

Ugh. The virtual tours are pretty lame. The colleges all sound the same, look the same, etc. I’m exaggerating, I guess, but not really. Anne

It Doesn’t Matter If You Can’t Visit

We did a few visits before Covid hit. I figured out that my kid is probably going to be good wherever she goes. She’ll apply and we’ll figure it out from those acceptances. Robin

My son is a current senior heading to college in the fall. He didn’t like in-person tours because he felt they were all about marketing. We planned to visit after acceptances came in and I bet you can guess how that story ended. Heather

We only did a few campus visits with my now senior daughter before applying to 10 colleges. She was accepted, and then we did 2 accepted-students days before Covid shut that all down for us. Many seniors this year have chosen schools with few or no on campus visits. Don’t stress now. The best visits are truly the accepted-students days. More info is provided and program introduction–and they pull out all the stops. And my daughter didn’t care at all for the virtual visits, either. Linda

We visited a few over the last few years for my rising senior, but never did an “official tour” of any campuses. And now he has no desire to do virtual visits. He just researches the ones he’s interested in and will apply to 6-8 and narrow down after he applies and wherever he gets accepted. And I know it will work out the way it’s supposed to and he will love whatever college he ends up at because, hey, it has to be better than living here on decently strict quarantine for our area. Holly

My daughter only got 3 visits in before it all hit. We had plans for spring. And she’s not liking the virtual tours. She spent her extra time in the spring doing more research on schools. Ashley

There are Better Ways to Learn About the School

My daughter has done StriveScans and watched videos and it’s just not the same for her. . . We are also internet challenged. She is reaching out to admissions people & asking to be connected to alumni (not just students) and many are just too busy right now to respond well. It’s discouraging. . . However, she got the loveliest call today from an alumni at a Tier 1 Research Institution and the gal warmed my heart from 1500 miles away. . . We are hoping to visit that college this summer and will definitely stop by to say, “Hi and thank you!”Additionally, we have encouraged her to create a LinkedIn profile this summer, and I expect she will seek out alumni of various schools that way and soon. It does also help her to read the issues of the school newspapers or follow up on what the research institutes are doing and which research webinars they are currently offering right now.

My son’s looking at the videos. He’s not so much listening to what they’re saying, as he is looking to see if he can see himself on the campus. . . He’s always been one to rely on intuition. He blocks out the “sell.” Joan

We have been doing the virtual tours PLUS making Zoom appointments with the department professors, and that has been really really helpful. Barbara

You Have to Go Visit the Campus

I don’t see how she can make a decision without visiting, especially if the school is across the country. Kimberly

My daughter is a rising college freshman. In my opinion, nothing replaces in-person visits. Everything is made to look awesome in the shiny virtual tours. We did virtual tours of most campuses before we visited and there were several schools she liked virtually that she didn’t like in person, and vice versa. We also only had small-to-mid sized private schools on our list at first, but as we crossed schools off our list we added a couple of larger schools, and that’s where she ended up. My advice would be to do as many virtual tours as you can and then try to do in-person visits where possible, even if it’s only walking around the campus and the town. I would suspect as most schools are returning to in-person classes this fall that in-person tours will resume in some form. Andrea

Mine doesn’t mind the virtual tour but doesn’t feel it replaces her need to visit. She had a horrible virtual visit that was a waste of time and I doubt she’ll do another. Heather

We are driving to a few campuses in the next few weeks. Many are “open campuses” which means you can still drive through, and get a feel for the campus and surrounding area. Wendy

 

We Ask Members Their Thoughts On Virtual Tours and Which Are Best

My rising senior son has done two and declared them both “a slick marketing waste of time.” Karen

My daughter has done several, some were organized well and others are just marketing. Kristina

The Pittsburgh online tour was excellent. We felt like we were actually on campus. Lafayette did a full-day virtual Open House and that was well done. Having an info session with several faculty members was wonderful. . . We did a Syracuse online session even though we did visit in person and the experience did not compare to when we were on campus. That was the moment we knew that some of these were going to be home runs and others would strike out, and that nothing can replace the in person experience. Taly

We have done two, NCSU and LSU. There wasn’t much life in them. The presenters did their best but it came across pretty flat and uninspiring. Most in-person tours have been lively and dynamic. We did get one or two pieces of good info out of them, and it was worth doing to confirm that yes, my son does want to apply, but we would definitely want to visit in person before committing to either. Kathy

Mine has done several, and a virtual college fair. Overall she has found the department-specific presentations much better for her. She is finding she must not be the typical potential college student because she cares about the level of instruction, class sizes, her out-of-pocket costs, internship and job placement opportunities, and the alumni networks. It seems most of the general tours try really hard to be “fun and relatable” and talk about their great coffee shops. She finds it frustrating. Lynda

Overall, most parents agree that the best way to “see” a school virtually is to watch the school’s virtual tours, and to sign up for their virtual events,  as well as to take a private site’s virtual tours. 

Although a virtual tour will never replace the value of an on-campus tour, it’s the main option right now for most schools.

The more information a student and their family can find about a college, the better-informed decision they can make. 

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Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz is a writer, and the acquisitions editor for Jim Donovan Literary, an agency that represents book authors. She's written about health and parenting for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, AARP’s The Girlfriend, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Next Avenue, NBC’s Today.com and many other publications. Her memoir/self-help book From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life was published by Sourcebooks in 2016.
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