Virtual College Touring: Not Cutting It


Maryland University virtual college visit with Ramaz in 2020

At this point in a normal year, many juniors have already visited colleges they are considering applying to. But this year, juniors can only learn about the schools piquing their interest online, and to put it bluntly: the online tours and programs are not enough. Obviously, where you apply to college is a big decision to make. The fact that you may apply to a school Early Decision in October without ever being to that school is a thought that makes many uneasy, as it should. 

At the beginning of this school year, I began doing virtual college tours to start narrowing down my options. At one tour, I thought that the process would be an insightful experience, the tours illuminating clear choices that would show the schools that catered to my wishes. But after the second tour and the third tour and the fourth and the ten more after that, every college started to seem the same. 

Each college uses the same software, called YouVisit, that brings you around campus as you click along. During most of these tours, a student talks to you in a pre-recorded message, explaining what you’re seeing on your screen. After 10-15 tours, they all blend together. The architecture of each college looks the same, the scenery becomes scenic no longer, and most importantly, you are unable to discern what each individual college is really like. And although because of the pandemic, colleges have invested more into their virtual offerings, these tours do not distinguish schools from each other.

The best available way to learn more about an individual college is through Zooms that colleges have been holding. Ask me Anything’s (AMAs) and information sessions are the crucial way for a college to put their best foot forward, showing prospective students like myself what their school has to offer. The main reason these Zoom sessions are so important is because most of them are student run; in other words, you actually get to interact with someone who goes to the school you’re interested in. Contrary to some Zooms run by admissions officers, who tend to give rosy and unspecific answers to many questions, students are more likely to be straightforward and detailed about their school experience. Additionally, they have been students more recently and can more accurately describe the contemporary college experience.

The worst part about travel to college campuses being limited is that you don’t get to feel out the school. At the end of the day, the most important thing about college is the exposure to new people and new ideas in a new place. If you can’t get a feel of what the new people in the new place are going to be like, then how will you know to go to that school? This is the issue most concerning to myself and other juniors.

On the bright side, the CDC recently announced that at least half of the US population above 18 has now received their first dose of the vaccine. Thus, college campuses– many this summer, and most others to follow by the fall– will reopen for official tours. This may prove just in time for juniors still deciding where to ED, and will also be important for colleges to up their recruiting efforts.

For now, though, the best way to learn about a school is to visit its campus in an unannounced fashion. With many colleges having students on campus already, now is a great time to visit to get a sense of what a school is like while in session. Especially if you know a student that can give you a tour themselves, visiting campus is the premier way to understand a school’s vibe. Of course, a summer visit is better than no visit at all, but the best time to visit a school is while students are on campus. 

The next best thing, which most, including myself, have been doing thus far, is the aforementioned Zoom information sessions. Simple to sign up for, these sessions are currently the most common way people are learning about schools they’re interested in, and I would recommend them to anyone.