How Much Can You Learn From a Virtual Campus Visit?

When it comes to campus tours, the question seems to be: To visit or not to visit? Or, more fitting: To visit or to visit virtually? While the answer to this question might vary from one prospective student to another and depend on other factors including proximity and traveling costs, an argument can certainly be made that, despite technology's best attempts, nothing can quite replace setting foot on an actual campus.

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Virtual Visits Have Distinct Advantages

No doubt there are many good reasons for going the virtual route. Convenience and affordability are probably the two biggest advantages. You might be interested in colleges that are not only a long car ride but a plane flight away. Add in a likely hotel stay, and you can see where a real tour can be quite an expense.

In addition to specific school websites, there are several online resources devoted to virtual campus tours, such as eCampus Tours and College Prowler. YouTube even offers videos made by various institutions across the country through YouTube EDU. Sites like these provide many extras in addition to campus features. You can find interactive maps, coverage of surrounding areas, interviews with professors, student blogs, on-campus food reviews and even actual classroom lectures. You'll feel as if you were actually there, even though you never left your living room couch!

But is it enough?

Nothing Beats the Real Deal

In many cases, it comes down to: virtual reality can't trump flesh-and-blood reality. You likely can't envision yourself living on a specific campus without first seeing it, and not just on a computer screen. Even interactive video can't portray the true campus experience.

This isn't to say that virtual tours aren't important, or don't have their place in the college selection process. But as elaborate and detailed as some virtual tours are, they can be somewhat limited or even a bit biased. For instance, they might concentrate on campus highlights while ignoring less attractive features. This won't be as helpful as you need when it comes to answering the many questions you'll no doubt have about any specific campus.

What are all of the surrounding areas like? How crowded does the campus get on certain days and times? What's dorm life really like? Are the professors approachable? You can usually only answer questions like these by actually being there, asking current students, talking to faculty, taking a ride beyond the campus.

Best Virtual Practices

One effective way to utilize virtual tours is to 'visit' several campuses and narrow down the ones you'd really like to see firsthand. This is especially helpful if you have several colleges you are considering. Both cost- and time-wise, it simply might not be possible to visit every campus on your list.

If you absolutely, positively cannot make a real visit, elaborate on your virtual tour by doing a little more research. Use social media outlets such as Facebook to connect to current and past students. Contact the school to find out if it's possible to set up a Skype interview with students and faculty members. Visit similarly-sized campuses in your area to at least get a possible feel for the campus you are considering.

Selecting a college is a major life choice. You should do all you can do - within financial reason, of course - to make sure you are gathering as much information as possible before selecting the place where you're going to be spending the next few very important years of your life.

College tours on the go? Smartphone mobile apps allow you to 'visit' a campus from anywhere.

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