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Virtual Campus Tours Give Students New Perspective

Overwhelmed by all the options for college? Can't possibly visit the dozen campuses that your high school student wants to see? Technology is once again stepping in to save us time. In this case, it's with online virtual tours of college campuses.

YourCampus360.com started producing virtual walking tours of campuses to post on their websites about a year ago. Visitors can click through photos, hear narration, and look inside and outside buildings from all angles. When you get to a theater, you can click to see a musical performance or view a clip from a basketball game as you get to the arena. On campus, the information can be downloaded via your mobile device for a self-guided tour.

The new company is working with schools in 18 states and has 20 virtual tours on its website with another dozen under construction. Founder Abi Mandelbaum says he got the idea when he looked at many college websites that were "static" and needed an upgrade. For schools, the virtual tours are a way to improve their marketing and better attract a diverse pool of students. For students, the video clips of activities happening on campus throughout the year give a glimpse of the culture deep inside the school, he says.

With a fan page on Facebook and integration with You Tube, YourCampus360 is tied into where prospective students spend their time, Mandelbaum says. "They are not going to come visit unless you reach them where they are," he says. If a student is interested in several schools, taking a virtual tour can give him or her a feel for a campus and help narrow down the list—and save the family time. The goal is to interest students enough that they will want to visit in person, says Mandelbaum.

"The purpose is not to replace campus tours, but to supplement them," he says. "It's very costly for a school to have tour guides around 24/7. And sometime people prefer to tour on their own to take their time."

Eventually, Mandelbaum says campuses that don't have virtual tours will be at a disadvantage. "The audience is prospective students and teenagers," he says. "They are used to researching online. If they don't feel a strong connection online, they won't consider that college seriously."

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