Making the Most of Virtual Campus Tours for College Admissions

Maybe you’ve always wanted to walk barefoot through Harvard’s Radcliffe Quad. Or browse cases full of historical manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Or stand in awe of Stanford’s Memorial Church. You might not be able to in-person right now, but with virtual campus tours, you can be there in spirit! So, how should you use these online opportunities to learn more about the schools you want to visit? Cardinal Education has the answers.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Virtual Campus Tours

Many have already pointed out that a virtual campus tour will not be able to fully replace an in-person one. There’s no student tour guide telling funny stories about their time on campus, or sharing insights with their tour group that only a student at that college would know. There’s not a real sense of the campus’s vibe, no opportunity to catch a glimpse of a class in-session, no chance to sit down with a professor and ask them everything you want to know. 

Yet at the same time, you’ll be able to tour a campus free from the comfort of your own home—there’ll be no ultra-expensive plane tickets, no homework to catch up on once you get back, and no worries of catching COVID on the plane. There’s no need, either, to rework your schedule or sign up fast to snag disappearing campus tour slots, as virtual campus tours are available year-round. More than that, online campus tours often provide helpful website links to learn directly about each building and the opportunities within them, organized specifically to suit the needs and interests of incoming students. (Yale provides links to pieces of its rare book collection, and Columbia’s virtual tour has a plethora of news links about campus life and its various departments!) Finally, if you want to take a second look, virtual campus tours don’t go away. Though the in-person tour ends with your flight back home, you can keep coming back to a virtual tour as often as you like.

Beginning Your Journey

First, you’ll want to find the institution whose campus you want to attend. For a basic list, The Princeton Review has links to several schools that offer virtual tours. CampusTours has a selection of close to 2,000 colleges in the U.S., UK, Canada, China, and France. YouVisit offers tours to 600+ schools, assists you in finding schools that are appropriate for your student profile, and even gives you a means of asking questions that college officials will respond to you with. 

As you start your campus tour, take notes just like you would for a class assignment. (That’s another advantage of doing a campus tour sitting down–you can have the campus open in one window and your word processor open in another!) You may take notes on whatever you notice, but as you do, keep the following in mind:

  1. What’s the overall “vibe” you get from the images of campus? Stiff? Relaxed? Modern? Old-fashioned?
  2. What are their learning facilities like? Are they comprehensive? Specialized or general? 
  3. Do the dorms look comfortable? What amenities do the virtual tour say they have? Are they the kind of spaces you will want to spend the next four years living in?
  4. What aspects of campus culture are highlighted in the text blurbs/articles that are provided along with the campus tour? Is it a culture that you can see yourself as a part of?
  5. Look at some of the additional materials that the college may provide, such as stories from alumni or news articles from their newsletter. How are they trying to present themselves? Does it send a message that you resonate with? 
  6. What are the things, overall, that stands out to you about this college and make it unique? Try to name several specific things you notice that would make you want to attend.

Finally, write down some questions that you may have about the school. These will be useful later!

After Your Virtual Campus Tour: Getting Connected

You’re probably bursting at the seams now wanting to talk to someone about the college. Though you can’t meet them like you used to, you can definitely reach out on social media or send an email. Message the college’s Facebook page, or go to their website and look up admissions officers to ask questions to, or perhaps go the extra mile and get in contact with professors whose areas of study match your interests. Ask them any questions that may have arisen during your virtual tour. Bring up things that you liked about the college that you noticed while touring. Hopefully, this connection will serve you well on your college journey!