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Virtual college tours become an important part of the search



Take the first steps for beginning the college choice process

Find out how you and your teen can tour colleges virtually


I remember when my son was a junior in high school, the dinner table was the time we talked about what classes Paul, my older son, liked and what colleges that could lead to. The only problem was that he really liked fishing, (In fact, that still is his first love. Check out his Thrill Fishing website.) When he looked up professions he was enamored with being a forest ranger until he realized that it was a difficult way to earn a living.

We visited colleges, he spoke to professors and met with his school advisor before making a final decision.

With college campuses closed because of the pandemic, things are so different now. Like with many programs this has become the time for visiting colleges virtually.

At this point we have no indication when college campuses will be open for visits, so use this time to search for virtual visits.

READ MORE: Beware of scammers targeting your college student

If you are just getting started on the college admissions process visit the sites below:

The National Association for CollegeAdmission Counseling with its 14,000 member colleges. Click away and view everything from college admission requirements to locating its sponsored virtual college fairs

If you are ready to start touring:

There are several websites that allow students to tour and compare schools. These sites offer interactive maps, photos, videos and testimonials.

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CampusTours offers tours of more than 1,800 schools in the United States as well as tours of schools in the United Kingdom, Canada, China and France. Its advanced search feature allows students to fine-tune details they are searching for, such as how much tuition they want to pay. About 100 schools offer insights from enrolled students during parts of the tour on campus life, the company’s president, Christopher Carson, said. CampusTours is also working on a feature to allow students to ask questions while they are on the tour that are sent to college officials, he added.

YouVisit offers tours of more than 600 U.S. schools. The tours offer prompts that pop up asking students for input that is sent to college officials to respond, an attempt to replicate the questions and answers that come up during in-person tours. YouVisit also offers students to tour using “virtual reality” tools. “There is nothing that replaces that in-person experience that makes a student fall in love with a campus, but the goal of a virtual tour is to do as much as it can to replace those moments,” said Emily Bauer, vice president for agency services for EAB, the education research and technology company that owns YouVisit.

If you want to attend a Historically Black College or University:

The Chicago HBCU Alumni Alliance is offering virtual fairs in which nearly 50 H.B.C.U.s give students information on admissions, programs and scholarships. Videotapes of the events will be available on the alliance’s website in the coming weeks. The alliance’s president, Danielle James, said more virtual fairs are planned for the summer.

StriveScan also featured presentations from several H.B.C.U.s.

Other virtual tour sites include:

YoUniversity: Students can click on tabs such as “safest campuses,” “most diverse campuses” and “top academic colleges,” as well as “best campus food” and “coolest dorms.”

CampusReel: Students enrolled at colleges can upload their videos to this site for sharing, after being vetted. Students or parents must register to join.

READ MORE: Weighing college costs

If you want to take a gap year:

The Gap Year Association offers videos on what it means to take a gap year and is building a new student membership platform — a nominal fee will be required to join — that will give students access to weekly calls to learn about gap year opportunities, said the association’s executive director, Ethan Knight. The website also offers information on accredited gap year programs and counselors.

If you want to play sports in college:

Virtual tours, like the ones at YouVisit, can put students in the stands or on the playing field to get a simulated experience of being an athlete there. CampusTours has a feature that lets students find sports offered at various schools.

After you’ve narrowed down your list:

This is the time to start making personal outreach to schools, Mr. Carson of CampusTours said. “You can’t rely on virtual tours to tell you everything about the institution, you need to reach out to the schools themselves.” 

Traditionally, students have been told that some colleges rank in-person visits as a show of “demonstrated interest.” This year that could take different forms, like emailing professors and admissions officers or attending Zoom meetings. 

“Demonstrated interest is very valuable,” Mr. Carson said. “Make personalized phone calls and write emails.”



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