As we all adjust to the new “normal” of staying at home and social distancing, it means we have to adapt and find new ways to make informed decisions. That’s especially true for high school juniors and seniors planning for college. COVID-19 has turned the planning for college process on its head. Those trips to visit colleges need to be postponed or canceled altogether. So how do you get a good sense of a college or university without stepping foot on campus?
The good news is many colleges and universities have found ways to help bring the campus experience to you in the form of virtual college tours.
Here are some ways you can tour colleges online:
1. Break out the VR headsets (don’t worry, not a requirement!)
There are several online resources that help you ‘tour’ a college from your computer or phone. Using techniques like 360-degree photos, interactive maps, and even virtual reality, you can take a stroll around campus, into specific dorms, and through classrooms, while never leaving your house. Different schools will have different types of tours, but even the most basic will give you a feel for the campus highlights.
Try sites like YouVisit for an impressive virtual reality experience, or CampusTours for interactive maps and virtual access to more than 1,700 campuses across the country.
2. Check out Instagram
While not as official as the virtual campus tour, a school’s Instagram account will give you more of an authentic feel for the campus, student base, and overall vibe of the college.
If you follow a hashtag used by students, you’ll get a sense of the local hangouts, popular events, and even a lesson in typical campus attire. Coupled with the virtual campus tour, social media channels like Instagram will give you a pretty good sense of what life would be like at a particular college.
3. Find the school’s social media groups on Facebook or Reddit (and ask questions!)
In order to really get an understanding of your prospective college, you’ll probably need to ask questions. But, how do you do it if you’re not on campus? Take a look at Facebook and Reddit. Each social channel has specific groups dedicated to students at a specific college or university. A quick search on either channel will show you your group options. If you’re on Facebook, look for the freshmen class or new student groups. On Reddit, just search for your college’s subreddit page.
Do you have questions about the academics, social life, jobs on campus, dorms, food, clubs, etc.? Either search from the current posts or threads, or pose a question to the current students or alumni.
Here is a list of questions to ask:
- Are some majors or departments considered stronger or more popular than others?
- How long are the semesters?
- Are there honors programs or capstone classes? If so, what are they like?
- How would you describe the freshman experience, in terms of advising or any classes that everyone has to take?
- Is there free academic support or tutoring? Is it effective?
- Is there a writing center or academic support offered?
- What is freshmen onboarding like?
- Is there career counseling?
- What kind of internships are available?
- Are study abroad programs available?
- What clubs or other extracurricular opportunities are popular?
- Do sports play a large role on campus? What about intramurals or exercise classes?
- What are the dorms like? Shared or private options? Are there laundry rooms and kitchens available in some spots?
- What about off campus housing? Do sophomores and juniors mostly live on campus, or off? If they move off campus, do they live in apartments or shared houses?
- How is the food in the dining hall? Are there other popular places to eat?
- What are the good hang-out places on or off campus?
- Is there Greek life? What’s it like?
- Is the student population diverse? Any organizations or events to promote and empower diversity?
- Do students stay on campus on the weekends?
- Is there homecoming or alumni weekend? What’s it like?
- Do I need a car?
- What other transportation options are there?
- Is the campus safe? What about at night?
- Is it easy to find a part-time job around campus? Or close by?
No doubt about it, in-person campus tours are beneficial. But there are a ton of reasons why virtual tours can be the way to go, even when health concerns aren’t top of mind. Whether it’s because of COVID-19, trying to stay in budget, or managing multiple campus tours in a little bit of time, taking ‘tours’ online can be immersive, informative, and even fun.