There’s no debate that the internet is one of the greatest communications tools of the last 50 years (if not of all time). At what other time in history has it been easier to find videos of cats falling down or collections of baby panda pictures? Gutenberg would be proud at how easily information is disseminated in the future.
With so much information and experience available as close as a keyboard, it’s no surprise that virtual campus tours have become a widely-used tool for students looking to learn more about colleges and universities. While these videos might not be as popular as tabbies flying off a couch or little pandas yawning, virtual campus tours offer more than just time-wasting fun. These tours give students and families a fuel-efficient way to learn more about potential schools during the college selection process.
While virtual tours might not give the same “feel” as being physically at the campus, they can give a good starting point for learning more about a potential match for students. Here are some things to consider about what virtual campus tours can, and can’t, do for students that take them:
- Virtual tours offer a limited point of view: Since these videos are meant to show campuses in their best light, students will get a good look at the highlights of the school environment, such as its architecture and landscaping. Clean and neat, this is the way that the school wants its campus to be seen. Usually, virtual tours will be led by a tour guide, narrating video and photos of the school. Often, if presented free to the use, the tour may be paid for my sponsors or advertisers. What impact that relationship may or may not have on the information provided should also be considered by the viewer.
- Virtual tours are a great starting point: A virtual tour can offer users a taste of the school and what it offers. Perhaps a department or program is mentioned in the virtual tour that sparks interest for a student. Not every area of academics or student life can be covered in an online tour. But often these tours will give information on how to find out more about certain programs. If not, students can exercise their Google Ninja skills to dig deeper and learn not only more about a program or department, but start to find out more about what is available to them in that area.
- Virtual tours offer just a taste of student life. Just like those high-res postcard-quality photos of the campus, virtual tours will offer a thin slice of student life. It only makes sense that a student won’t get a complete picture of what it’s like to be enrolled at a campus by watching a video. While a virtual tour might give an idea of prominent campus landmarks and the roles of various buildings in campus life, digging further by using Google Images, Maps or other tools will give a more balanced look into the campus experience. Check out YouTube channels or Reddit boards to get a broader sense of what student life might be like at a particular school.
Though it’s always better to visit a campus in person, a virtual tour, combined with a little bit of research afterwards, can give students a good approximation of whether or not a particular college fits with their needs. Think of virtual tours as a way to get a taste of what a campus offers without spending the money to travel to the campus. If it fits, families can then consider taking a visit IRL (in real life) already armed with a fair amount of knowledge about what to expect and be that much more prepared to talk about issues like academics, financial aid and other practical realities instead of wanting to see the sales pitch for a school.