How to Get the Most Out of Virtual College Tours

Are you a high school junior or graduating senior? Are you trying to figure out how to get that feeling about college? It’s the feeling that tells you YES, this is the one. At the peak of the Coronavirus pandemic, on-campus tours and newly admitted student days went virtual. This meant juniors and seniors needed to figure out how to choose the best college without being able to visit campus. While many campuses are now offering in-person campus tours, there are still incredible online/virtual options. And they’re not going away…

Here’s a guide to help you make the best college choice with the help of virtual campus tours:

1. Think about what you want

It all starts with you. And there is no wrong answer. Do you want to be in a big city or a small college town? Do you want to play sports or sing in the choir? Do you want to be close to home or across the country?  Don’t know what you want? Choose the two most important areas of change for you. There’s social, emotional, physical, financial, or academic. Rank them and identify the top two that matter most. Let this be what guides you.

Northwestern University student, Robby Winter wanted academics and athletics (physical). He looked for a school where he could get a quality education and run club cross country. He applied early decision to Northwestern and is now a junior on the club team.

2. Attend a college campus virtual tour

Whether it’s virtual reality, a pre-recorded video, a 3D tour, or a live video guided tour, colleges are offering more options for students to “visit” campuses virtually. Attend virtual tours so you can see average classroom sizes, different buildings, gyms and other amenity spaces, and the all-important dorm rooms. But don’t stop there. Make a note of the students giving the tour and the places on campus that pique your interest.  These are the people and places that will help you get that feeling.

3. Connect with the admissions teams

Talk to them virtually. Schedule one-on-one conversations. Visit the website. Find their Facebook page. Follow the admissions social media channels. Subscribe to their YouTube Channel (turn on notifications).  Schools are sharing new videos, launching new social media feeds, hosting live discussions, adding new sessions to existing programs, and experimenting with different ways to engage with prospective students.  Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, schools are creating more access points and including more students in the process. This means you can connect with real students and ask questions specific to what you want.

Princeton University Orange Key Guide, Paige Frances encourages you to reach out to your live and virtual tour guides. She is constantly connecting with students who took tours with her and had more questions.  She loves being a resource.

4. Use social media

Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat, and TikTok can be a great way to get a feel for the college campus. It’s also a great way to familiarize yourself with members of the community and school spirit. We recommend following your top college choices on social media especially if you are a newly admitted student. Admissions officers are using platforms like Instagram live to give virtual campus tours and answer questions on the fly. You can also join your graduating class’s Facebook group to find new friends and possibly a roommate. If you’re a parent, check out the family and parent Facebook groups.

5. Connect virtually with campus organizations & clubs

Colleges have a list of clubs and organizations that students can join once you arrive on campus (search student life on the website). If you find organizations that interest you, find and follow them on social media. You can reach out to students involved in those organizations and ask questions. They can help you understand how to get involved, balance time, and support your academic goals. This is especially helpful for student-athletes and artists with specific interests. I polled a group of Elon University students and asked them if they would be open to random questions on Snapchat. They all said to send questions. Students want to help incoming freshmen.

6. Use your high school counseling resources

Talk to your counselors virtually. Ask them to connect you with current students who graduated from your high school who go to the colleges that you want to visit. See if there are alumni who live near you that can speak to how to navigate campus, what the residence halls are like, best campus jobs, and how to make the easiest transition to life in college. Getting in touch with them virtually can help you narrow down the places you want to visit in-person when it is safe and permitted to do so.

Lyle Duncan, a junior at New Trier High School has been taking advantage of virtual tours.  While not ideal, it’s given him even more schools.  His tour at Colorado State University included live conversation where he was able to interact with current students.

7. Search Reddit, YouTube, and other online resources

Look for Reddit threads specific to the colleges you’re interested in. Better yet, you may be able to find subreddits for groups, majors, and other niches within that college or university. YouTube is filled with college vloggers who make videos showcasing college football games, meeting friends on campus, and other social aspects about college life. CampusReel is a great resource to see videos shot by students on campus. You can also visit NACAC for the latest updates on virtual college fairs.

“In a virtual space prompted by COVID-19, we’ve expanded the number of students who can participate, since our program is fully digital. New students will still get a chance to learn about campus and build relationships with other new students—which we’ve learned is at the heart of the program’s impact for those more reserved student participants.”  – Ryan Kolter Coordinator for Recreational Sports and Wellness at California Lutheran University

 8. Find people who have similar stories

Reach out to spiritual groups, multicultural centers, diversity centers, and places on campus where you can connect with people who look like you and have a similar background.  These people are just like you, but a year or two in the future. Most are willing and want to help others. They are proud of their school and want others to experience those same feelings.

Getting that feeling is about finding a connection to campus. The best way to make this happen during the current pandemic is to connect with others virtually and participate in virtual college tours. Find people and places on-campus that inspire you and make you excited to go there. If you have any questions, reach out to me @HarlanCohen and check out College Conversations on YouTube at BeforeCollegeTV.  I am grateful to be in your corner during this virtual adventure.


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