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How to Make the Most of Virtual College Tours

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

Sometimes, you may not be able to visit the college you are considering to tour its campus. While many current college students tout the importance of being able to actually step foot onto the campus you might go to, sometimes the circumstances just do not work out.

However, colleges and universities have begun to offer great virtual tour alternatives, that while not exactly the same, can greatly subsidize a campus tour visit.

In fact, I never visited my campus in person until I was actually enrolled in it! So, here are the best ways to make the most of your virtual college tour.

Virtual Tour – 360 degree view

Many universities have invested in robust virtual tour software in the wake of COVID. Some larger universities will be equipped with a self-paced 360 virtual tour software, while smaller universities may have a YouTube video walking you through the campus.

Regardless of the technology being used, the virtual tour option will likely follow the same path that official campus tours would take. You should be able to “visit” all the key landmarks at your prospective university while your virtual tour guide tells you information.

If your university offers a 360 virtual tour, this also means that you will be able to “walk” around in the direction you please to explore on your own. While this is not the same as walking on the campus in person, the ability to explore to your heart’s content is a great feature that can be offered virtually. Use this to your advantage as this is an important aspect in making the most of your tour. 

Because of the nature of a virtual tour, you will not be able to ask questions or likely see more major specific buildings. However, you can use the explore feature to look at your major buildings if possible, and you can get your questions answered in another way.

As you are taking your virtual tour, write down any questions you might have so you can ask them later.

One positive thing that people usually forget with virtual tours is that even if the weather is bad in real life, in the virtual tour, it is always going to be a warm, sunny day!

Beyond the broad tour of the campus, make sure you tour the prospective colleges you are interested in as well! While the overall tour is great to help you learn more general facts and information about the school, if you want to learn about information specific to your prospective major, many schools will also offer college specific tours.

Thus, if you are interested in business, make sure to do the general tour and the business school tour. Do not be afraid to tour several colleges!

Even if you think you are set on a major, it can still help to do a virtual tour of several different colleges because something in the tour may spark your interest.

Because it is virtual, it will not take any additional walking or days to do the tour, so a little extra time is likely going to be well worth it.

Zoom Information Sessions

Typically, paired with a virtual tour or otherwise offered concurrently, universities will offer information sessions over Zoom. Depending on the size of your university and the Zoom sessions offered, you may be put in a panelist setting or have the opportunity to connect with representatives one on one.

Regardless of the setting, you will get more information on the school, and this is where you should ask the questions you wrote down during your virtual tour.

If you have personal questions, this may be better asked during a one on one conversation, but if this is your only session, do not be deterred from asking your question!

I remember during my session, I asked a personal question pertaining to my unique circumstance but I asked it anonymously through the chat function. The host was able to answer my question and give me the exact information I needed.

If possible, I recommend collecting the emails or LinkedIn contacts of the people presenting in the Zoom session. While adults are likely going to be bombarded with questions and may be too busy to help you, current students may be more likely to answer your questions. 

Get The Most Out Of Your College Visit

Connect with current students

Maybe you know a family friend that goes to the school you are considering. Or, as I mentioned, you obtained someone’s contact information through an info session.

Regardless, it is important for you to use your resources. It is the combination of these three tips – the virtual tour, Zoom info session, and connecting with current students – that will get you your most holistic outlook on the university you are considering. 

Even if you do not have a family friend or are not able to connect with a current student during an information session, there are still ways to get in touch with a current student. One of the best avenues you can use is LinkedIn.

If you do not already have a LinkedIn, go ahead and make one. You can find current students and even filter by the major you are interested in. Many students will be open to chat and help you find out more information.

Simply reach out to them in a polite and professional manner and ask to set up a coffee chat. Here, you can ask direct and personal questions as well as their opinions on the school.

While an admissions officer or school representative will only talk about the school in a positive manner, prospective students are important to connect with because they will tell you about the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If you are struggling to think of some questions to ask them, here are some that you might want to consider. Of course, ask them about the questions that you wrote down during the virtual tour if you have not already.

Other things you might want to think about are questions about social life/Greek life or how helpful the advisors are. You may also consider asking about why they chose their major or what aspects of their college they wish they could change.

Take advantage of the fact that you are having a one on one conversation and make sure to learn from their experiences and advice. In this way, you will get a great outlook on the college or university from the administrator level as well as from a personal level.

Additional tips

Another important thing to look at is the dorm living situation. While a tour of the dorms may be included on the virtual tour, you may not be able to see what a model dorm room looks like.

In order to take a look, you will have to do some extra research. You can get an idea of the kind of amenities your dorm room will have as well as the general sizing of the dorm.

Like the virtual tour, if you go on to your school’s housing website, they will also likely have a 360 virtual tour of the inside of the dorm room. Even if they do not have the 360 virtual tour, they will likely have a robust set of pictures and a list of amenities.

One more tip to get the most information out of a virtual tour of your prospective university is to take yourself on your own virtual tour. Using the Google maps walking feature, you can explore the campus and may even be able to look inside certain buildings.

If you did not know about this feature, simply Google your potential university and drag and place the little orange person in the bottom right corner of the screen wherever you want to look.

In this way, you can “walk” around and get a good look at buildings that might not have been covered in the official virtual tour or have been blocked off by the software.

Another thing you might not have considered is if there are local branch campuses that are near you that you would be able to visit. For example, while Penn State’s main campus is located in the middle of Pennsylvania, they have 20 branch campuses located throughout the state.

If you may not be able to visit the main campus, see if your school has branch campuses and tour one of those! While it is not the same as the main campus, university culture usually spans across locations and you will still be able to get a good gist of the culture.

Generating a view on a college culture without visiting the campus can be difficult but is one of the most important things you pick up on when you tour a campus in person.

In lieu of this, you can still get an idea of the college culture through social media. In order to see how students are, try finding “a day in the life of a student at XYZ university.”

While these types of videos are common on TikTok, you can also find more long-form videos on YouTube. You can get a much more personalized view of a student’s life and they are usually more unfiltered than any tour guide you may talk to.

These unsolicited, self-posted media videos about the school are probably some of the most authentic and realistic reviews of the school. Another important social media is of course the school’s official accounts such as their Instagram or even TikTok.

While this is an official view of the school, it can still provide insight to see what they choose to showcase about themselves.

Lastly, look at Reddit. Students at your school have likely made an un-official Reddit associated with the school in which they ask questions, debate, or complain about topics. Take a look through here and you will quickly see what people are struggling with, whether they are major classes, advisors, or the school system.

Beyond Reddit, you can also look at other unofficial affiliated school social media. Many schools have a Barstool account that shows what students are up to.

For a glimpse into the social lives of the students at your school, this is a helpful resource. However, keep all these unofficial resources in mind with a grain of salt, as these are someone else’s opinions, and only a small representation of what goes on at the school.

Conclusion

While a virtual tour cannot be the same as an in person tour, they can still be a great alternative to getting the information you need while staying in the comfort of your home.

Depending on how you do your research, you may actually learn more while “touring” virtually. Don’t be deterred by the fact that you cannot visit the campus in person.

As I mentioned, I never visited my college (Penn State) in person before I enrolled and I love it and am so happy I made the choice I did. Use your resources and make sure to ask lots of questions!

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Author: Sophia

Sophia is a current college freshman at Pennsylvania State University with plans to major in marketing. When she's not studying or in the gym, you can find Sophia watching her favorite Youtube channels or streamers. In the future, she hopes to travel the world while developing her marketing skills and building her network.