Sure, your kid just started school again. While you may be thinking that this is the calm before the storm, think again — especially if your child is entering his or her junior or senior year of high school.
These years are the future-forward ones, the ones when your child starts exploring colleges and universities, trying to find the right fit. Part of that will include learning about everyday life from talking to former and current students, researching housing and dining options, and checking out the course catalog. A large part of it will likely come from his or her experience from college campus tours.
In 2019, though, you don’t have to physically set foot on campus to get a feel for college life. There are now virtual college tours that can do just that. But, is it the best option?
The Differences Between College Campus Tours and Virtual College Tours
As it turns out, first-time college-goers are applying to more schools, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. The group found in a 2018 report that more than 80 percent of first-time freshmen have applied to at least three colleges each year since 2013.
And, if your child is among that enterprising 80 percent, it may not be possible to make cross-country trips to all those colleges and universities.
Here’s where virtual campus tours come into play.
These tours offer still photos, 360-degree videos and even virtual reality experiences, showing prospective students popular spots and landmarks on campus. Know that virtual reality tours may require a headset.
Virtual college tours expand access by letting you and your child stay in the comfort of your own home, while exploring said schools. In doing so, you’ll be able to save time and money. You won’t have to fork over your credit card for airfare, lodging, car rentals and gasoline. And, that means you can set aside more money for tuition!
Why even visit then? College campus tours can be far more encompassing, allowing for a more interactive experience. You’d likely get a far richer idea of campus life when you’re there, among the hordes of students. These can even be personalized if you schedule appointments with the admissions office, counselors, academic deans or coaches.
Which Is Best?
We should note that not all colleges and universities have virtual campus tours, though most of the major ones should. And, know that there may be more than one virtual campus tour: the potential college may have produced its own, or you may be able to find several from private companies, like You Visit or CampusTours.
So, if the colleges and universities do have virtual tours, which is best?
Many university administrators recommend using virtual college tours as somewhat of a starting point. While your child is looking into colleges and universities, he or she can use vast online resources — including any guides, college newspapers, social media and more — alongside the tour to get a good grasp of life away from home. From there, you can whittle down serious contenders and decide which ones you may want to visit in person.
College Visit Tips
College campus tours will come together if you plan, plan, plan. A good rule of thumb is to reach out to the college about two weeks before you would like to visit.
Colleges and universities have simplified this process for prospective students and their families, placing it prominently on the homepage of their website. (If it’s not there, try looking through navigation bars for prospective or future students.) You may find that the university only does tours on certain days and times, and learn what exactly is included in the visit.
Once you’ve got a basic itinerary, you’re free to start personalizing your visit. Use these college visit tips to make the most out of your trip:
1. Plan for a time when the campus is bustling.
It’s best to visit during the fall or spring when a university is at its busiest. Then, you’ll find student organizations lining main halls, on-campus events and more. Know, too, that some students may try to jam in all their courses from Monday through Thursday, days that may be better suited for your visit. You’ll also want to avoid any holidays or final exam weeks.
2. Do your homework.
Start a list of must-do and must-see things while you’re there. If you already know some of your child’s extracurricular interests, scope the club or organization out. If your child knows what he or she wants to major in, look into the academic department and find professors who are conducting research close to his or her interests. See if there are any other on-campus tours, such as those for residence halls.
3. Once you’ve got a tour time, square away your other interviews.
This is where all that homework comes in handy. It’ll give you a clearer picture of what you want to do and who you want to talk to. Now, all you have to do is contact the college or professors and schedule some one-on-one interviews!
If you aren’t able to take an on-campus tour, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you’re getting as much input as possible:
1. Find student organizations on social media channels.
Teens are the always-connected generation. It’s probably safe to say that any college extracurricular groups will be online, whether it’s Facebook or Twitter. Look up the ones your child is interested in, and you may learn what types of events they hold, how often and more.
2. Get in touch with alumni.
Do you know anyone who is attending or has attended that college or university? Reach out to any alumni and get their take on their time there. If you don’t, try local alumni groups or find online groups associated with the school. If all else fails, contact the admissions office and ask for alumni contacts.
3. Reach out to professors via email or video chat.
Cold-emailing a professor may be a little nerve-racking, but it certainly doesn’t have to be. Your teen can simply state that he or she is a prospective student and interested in that professor’s line of work. From there, you can schedule a time to talk on the phone or via video conferencing.
And, remember that a virtual reality experience is only as good as your internet connection. Ensure you have the bandwidth and reliability you need with Kinetic Internet.
Happy college hunting!