The Pros and Cons of Virtual College Tours
Virtual college tours were very helpful during the height of COVID-19. Now that travel restrictions have ended, families are still opting in. And while there’s nothing like visiting in person, on-line tours remain a viable option for those who can’t.
Read the pros and cons of taking a virtual tour and decide if it’s right for your family.
What are Virtual College Tours?
A virtual college tour is a tour of a college campus that you can take without ever leaving home. Some tours are offered by the school directly as live events, others as recordings that you can watch anytime. The tours vary by school — some are brief, giving you just a taste of what each building or department offers, while others may be longer and have a dedicated tour guide available to answer questions.
Live campus virtual tours by the schools themselves are free, but may have to be scheduled ahead of time. For pre-recorded tours, consider using a site like CampusTours.com, which aggregates a list of schools offering virtual tours and videos that you can check out at any time.
As schools continue to invest in tour video technology, the videos have become informative, with some schools (like Harvard) even using these online tours to showcase areas of the campus that aren’t shown on a typical in-person tour.
Virtual College Tour Benefits
There are lots of great reasons to take virtual college tours, including:
Since virtual tours are free, they can be a great cost-saving measure for families who aren’t sure they want to spend a lot on travel without getting to know the school first.
They Save You Time
Driving to a school, spending three to four hours walking around campus, and driving back home can eat up an entire day. If you have to fly and book a hotel, that’s an additional time commitment. Digital tours take one to two hours, max.. You may choose to break up informational sessions into several smaller events, too – opting to talk to financial aid on one day and booking a lunchtime walk-through of the new sports facility on another.
Students or family members with disabilities or who find it difficult to fly won’t be left out of the touring experience. It’s ideal for including busy working parents or siblings on the visit, too. No one will feel left out!
Virtual College Tour Drawbacks
Nothing is perfect, and that includes the virtual college tour.
You Can’t See Everything
While even in-person tours can leave some things out, most in-person tours (especially private ones) can arrange for you to go anywhere that’s open to students and faculty. Virtual tours may only include the locations and places they want to take you, which comes with the risk of you only seeing the best parts of the campus.
Interaction is Limited
There’s something special about being able to sit down and chat with a current student or faculty member, as well as have ad-hoc conversations with people on campus. Virtual tours are very choreographed, leaving you to only interact with tour guides. You can’t see if other students are engaged or happy, and it may not give you a full sense of the campus “vibe.”
What Parents Think of Virtual Campus Tours
When given the choice between in-person or virtual options, many parents feel the virtual option has value, while others find them to be a waste of time.
“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 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
“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
When Should You Consider Virtual College Tours?
There are many reasons to attend virtual tours, especially at the beginning of your college search. If your student isn’t fully committed to any one school and needs more information to get to the next phase of their journey, virtual college tours can help move a school up or down the list.
The virtual experience, coupled with the information you can find using College Insights, is a great way to build a college list. The virtual tour isn’t necessarily a replacement for the “real thing,” but it can go a long way in helping your student narrow down their options without disrupting schedules and spending money that may be better spent on college tuition!
Use College Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.
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