Can’t take an in-person tour of that campus on your college list? How about a virtual college tour instead?

Virtual college tours are a cost-effective, time-saving (and social distance-friendly) way to visit a college campus when an in-person visit isn’t possible. As virtual tours become more popular, their quality has improved, which is good news. It means prospective students get a better feel for what life is like at that particular school.

Students can also take proactive steps to get the most out of their virtual college tours. We consulted Makayla D., a college tour guide at a Rhode Island university, on her top tips for a great virtual tour experience.

Do:

  • Use your webcam and microphone. Using your camera and microphone allows a student to have a real conversation with their tour guide. That dialogue keeps everyone engaged and creates a more interesting journey for students as they see different parts of the campus.
  • Ask about your guide’s personal experiences. Most tour guides are students who have been attending their college for a while. Asking about their favorite memories or recommendations will give you a far better sense of campus culture than knowing a school’s faculty to student ratio or other statistics. For example:
      • What’s your favorite event that the university hosts?
      • What do you usually do on weekdays once you’ve finished your work?
      • Tell me about your favorite professor and why you like them so much.
      • What clubs are you in, and what do you do in them?
      • How close are you with your professors? Do you eat with them? Do you call them by their first name or title? Do they call you by your first name?
  • Get clarification if you feel afraid or uncertain. If a student is worried about COVID-19, they should absolutely ask about the school’s plan for managing it to ensure student safety. This plan may also relate to college admissions, online vs. on campus classes in fall semester, and more. There’s a wide range of recommendations and modifications, but the only way to know more is to ask.

Don’t:

  • Ask about the frequency of alcohol consumption or sex. It’s almost always parents who ask about these topics--usually looking for drama or a horror story. It tends to make everyone on the tour feel awkward and uncomfortable. You can safely assume that alcohol and sexual activity are a part of college life on just about any campus. More relevant questions might relate to campus safety, such as:
  • Do you feel like you...
      • can safely walk through campus in the dark alone?
      • are always able to find a place to study, no matter the day or hour?
      • have peers who watch out for your safety and wellbeing?
  • Quiz the tour guide about their own admissions history. It doesn’t matter if this school was the tour guide’s top choice or where else they applied; what matters is that they’re here now, and they have valuable information to share. Keep questions focused on the guide’s current experience:
      • Why did you choose this school?
      • What’s your favorite thing about the school’s location?
      • What do you like about the school’s size?
  • Leave in the middle of the tour. It’s rude to leave while the tour is still going on, even in a digital format. Remember that the person on the screen is a real human being--and even on a virtual tour, they can see that you’ve left.
  • Stay silent or on mute. It’s expected and totally okay to verbally stop the tour guide to ask them questions. While speaking up may be challenging for introverted personalities, your questions and comments are welcome! It is better to get your question answered in the moment than to move on to another topic and forget what you wanted to ask.

Of course, to make the most of virtual college tours, your student needs to put together a college list! Check out our Guide to College Admissions for a step-by-step process to college list-building.