Touring Colleges, Virtually During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Here is some advice from Bronx Science Class of 2021 seniors regarding virtual college tours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Maribel Alley

This is the YouVisit college touring website. It has features that allow YouVisit to search for colleges that are ideal for you, based off of your future career choices.

The fall of a student’s junior year in high school is a time where many soon-to-be seniors start checking out colleges. Juniors visit colleges and universities in which interested in. They search the internet to research schools and traditionally visit school campuses in person, in order to get a feel of what their college experience may be like. The Coronavirus pandemic has brought on a lot of changes, and one of the biggest changes the pandemic has wrought was how students received their education worldwide. Some students attend school virtually through Zoom or Google Meets classes, while others do blended learning. But what about those who are in their final year of high school and going off to college this fall? 

Touring colleges is usually done in person. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, a junior or senior would visit the colleges they were interested in, ask the tour guide questions about the campus, and go sightseeing around campus. This would enable the student to consider which college to spend the next chapter of their life at. This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, colleges can only be toured virtually, online. Touring colleges remotely via the internet was a unique and strange experience for many students. A couple of students were able to visit college campuses before the lockdown began in March 2020. “Touring colleges was actually really enjoyable for me. I was able to visit many of the colleges that were on my list prior to the pandemic, because my parents turned my February 2020 break of junior year into a college visiting trip, which ended up being really informative and enjoyable. I think that touring any college can make you feel nervous, but I would recommend asking any question you have and really trying to get a feel for the school to imagine how you would feel if you were a student,” said Bailey Stephen ’21. Stephen luckily got the chance to visit several of the schools in which she was interested.  

Others were not as lucky and had to content themselves with Google searches and visiting college websites in order to learn about their prospective colleges. “I was supposed to go tour colleges during the spring and summer breaks of 2020, but we all know how that worked out. Touring online is definitely weird. Most of the time, it’s a prerecorded video or 360 degree maps of a campus. I traveled to campuses throughout high school for Speech & Debate tournaments, and the difference between actually experiencing schools and looking at them on a laptop is immeasurable,” said Noelle Barille ’21. 

The best place to discover touring information for a college of your interest is their official website. Each college will have a different method of presenting their campus virtually. Some will have pre-recorded videos, just like what Barille experienced. Others will have a tour guide showing off the campus and answering questions via Zoom. It all depends on the college; it is important to double check your information by visiting the website of the school that you are considering. 

Of course to every situation there are pros and cons, and that includes touring college virtually. One pro of touring college virtually is not having to spend money on flights and/or gas to arrive at the school. Another benefit is being able to get in contact with people much more easily. With the internet, there are many resources at your disposal, including contact information for school admissions offices. There is an increase in accessibility for college touring and information sessions virtually, giving students more options to check out other schools and plan out a schedule. 

One of the negatives to virtual tours is technical difficulties. We are all familiar with our computers malfunctioning in the middle of class or freezing in our hour of need, and the same issues can happen during a virtual tour. 

The feel of seeing the campus on video versus in person is also very different. “I really liked how many colleges had options for both a guided virtual webinar tour and a normal virtual tour you can do on your own. The guided tour was reminiscent of a real life tour, and the self guided tour allowed me to go back and see things that I may have previously missed,” said Krish Shah ’21. 

Touring colleges virtually can make deciding on applying to a college difficult. Seeing a college in person is a leading factor in whether a student applies to that college or not. Some students found the decision more difficult than usual. The college campus might look nothing like the pretty picture shown through a website. “Touring virtually made deciding on applying to a college more difficult, definitely. I have only seen two of the schools I have applied to in person, which is so scary. My opinions of the schools are based on what other people say (and the school’s programs), but I wish I was able to see the school firsthand and make my own inferences about the community,” said Elana Abrams ’21. Since the campus is not guaranteed to look like it does in the official advertisements, that means a student must rely on the words of others and the strength of courses offered that fit a student’s future major. 

Another important part of virtual tours is again checking the website. University websites are constantly being updated with information necessary for a student who is looking into the school. The school curriculum and rulebook should be included on the website along with numbers to the admission office and emails for students to contact the college. Websites also include how to apply for that specific college. It is important to pay attention to this because some colleges that used to require an exam, such as Bowdoin College, have now made the exam optional, due to the ongoing pandemic.

Evaluate yourself and what career you are interested in pursuing. Research colleges that offer those classes. It can also be helpful to look into financial aid as well and the cost for attendance. “I think online tours can be really helpful for getting an overview of schools, but the best sense of colleges will be from current students. You can reach out to former Bronx Science students. Tour every kind before you begin to narrow your choices. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to curate your list so you end up with plenty of choices that you love,” Barille shared. 

There are plenty of online websites that offer online college touring.The website CampusTours – Interactive Virtual Tours and Campus Maps offers a view of more than 1,800 schools in the United States as well as tours of schools in the United Kingdom, Canada, China and France. And the website is currently working on a feature that allows students to ask questions to college officials. 

Another helpful website is YouVisit offers tours of more than 600 U.S. schools. It has a feature where students can ask college officials any questions that come up while the tour is happening virtually. A third college touring website is Niche: Explore Schools, Companies, and Neighborhoods and it allows you to search for colleges based on cost, major, and selectivity. It provides student reviews and comments. The virtual touring of colleges can be stressful, so make sure to take care of yourself. Happy touring! 

I really liked how many colleges had options for both a guided virtual webinar tour and a normal virtual tour you can do on your own. The guided tour was reminiscent of a real life tour, and the self guided tour allowed me to go back and see things that I may have previously missed,” said Krish Shah ’21.

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