The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of higher education, including the college selection process.
Gone are the days—temporarily—of the tradition of prospective students taking road trips to visit colleges or universities they are considering attending to get a sense of the campus, speak with current students and faculty, tour student housing, and explore the surrounding community. While the pandemic has put a damper on this experience, it has focused admissions staff on another tool in their toolbox: the virtual campus tour.
Virtual campus tours are nothing new. They have developed as a recruitment tool as the technology to create and host them has evolved from simple interactive campus maps to live tours with on-campus guides leading the way. COVID-19 has contributed to their evolution.
“Our traffic tripled in the immediate aftermath of the COVID outbreak,” reported Chris Carson, president and founder of CampusTours in Auburn, ME. “We’re seeing a tremendous increase in interest in virtual tours from prospective students, and correspondingly we’re seeing a dramatic increase in virtual tour development from colleges and universities. Many are rushing out presentations to get them out as quickly as possible. COVID is affecting both student interest in virtual tours and institutional ability to develop them,” he said.
Keene State College in Keene, NH, is one institution that responded quickly when COVID curtailed on-campus visits.
“We did have a virtual tour available prior to the pandemic, but it was more of a self-guided tour where you could click through the virtual map and land at specific pages,” said Peggy Richmond, director of Admissions for Keene State. “The virtual tour guided by a student was created within days of us moving to remote work. Our team only missed one day of information sessions and tours—meaning that is the amount of time it took us to deliver the information session virtually. If you go to our website you will see that we now offer both: a self-guided tour and the guided tour with one of our current students.”