A virtual reality: Juniors tour their future schools online


Illustration by Makinsey Drake

More than 1,800 colleges in the US offer a substitutional way to get an on campus feel.

By Makinsey Drake, Parkway West High School

With colleges closed all around the country due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, college-seeking students have had to explore their future school options via virtual tours. 

Juniors Reese Berry, Bri Davis and Nicholas Harms have all attended virtual college tours as an alternative to in person visits. The virtual-tour process varied by school.  

“For most of the colleges, the online tour was a recorded video of students walking through the campuses and giving me information about the college,” Berry said. “I liked [that way] because it made me feel like I was actually there touring. For other colleges it was just a map of the school with an online video recording that didn’t seem very personable, which wasn’t my favorite.” 

Harms toured Washington University, University of Notre Dame, Northwestern University, Emory University, Case Western Reserve University and Johns Hopkins University.

“[The colleges I toured] had students [guiding the tours] who told stories about their experiences. I was able to click through pictures of their interiors. When they walked between buildings I was also able to see the landscape of the campus with both 360° photos and regular photos,” Harms said. 

Davis toured Southern Illinois University of Carbondale

“[The tour] was on a Zoom call and they had multiple people from the school who were explaining the rooms, the pricing, the usual stuff. I had to sign up for it beforehand to be able to get on,” Davis said. 

Berry virtually toured several colleges like the University of St. Thomas, University of Redlands and Carthage College, among others. Live question asking and answering was offered when Berry virtually toured Milligan College.

“They gave me a video to watch, then afterward I was sent to a Zoom meeting room with faculty and current students where I was able to ask questions and get them answered,” Berry said. 

Other colleges had different methods for answering questions. 

“There were no live questions, but in the application process there was a box to write down whatever questions you had. Then in the Zoom call, they had specific people answer those questions depending on what department they were in,” Davis said.

Harms has toured several colleges in real life before and felt a major downside of virtual touring was the lack of personability and focus on individual interests. “Since I want to major in computer science, I would have liked to see more about the facilities and teachers involved with that major rather than a short overview of all majors,” Harms said. 

Davis believes this process would be harder for people whose major is undecided. 

“They wouldn’t be able to get the answers they need to see how everything works and if the school is a good fit for them,” Davis said. “[Some colleges] didn’t even show the campus. Not even pictures. They just talked about it for a brief moment then moved on to the next subject.”

 Berry’s process differs as she considers what each college has to offer for her as a future college athlete. 

“For me I find schools that have the major I’m looking for and then I make sure they have a swimming program. After that, I look around the website a bit. If I like it I’ll fill out a recruiting form and usually the coach will respond to it within a few days and we set up a phone call,” Berry said. “With corona, I’ve had more time to talk to coaches which is really great because, for me, being able to hit it off with the coach and really like them helps me get a better feel for the school. Multiple coaches have given me information about some of their current swimmers, who’ve given me a lot more inside information about the school.”

Berry’s top five schools plan on reopening in the fall. She is excited to go on a real life tour with students and team members. 

I think this whole situation has pushed colleges to reach out to students more and focus on personal relationships with prospective students rather than looking at us like we’re just another statistic.”

— junior Reese Berry

“I’ve begun to accept the fact that my college decision process is going to look a lot different than what I have imagined, but that might not be a bad thing,” Berry said. “I think this whole situation has pushed colleges to reach out to students more and focus on personal relationships with prospective students rather than looking at us like we’re just another statistic.”

Davis is also understanding of the fact that colleges are doing their best to adapt to challenges of these unprecedented times. 

“It’s not easy especially for those like me who are searching for colleges but have to find alternative ways. One college, The Savannah College of Art and Design, today even called my mom asking about me so they are doing what they can to make the process less painful. They’re helping you by calling, having the virtual tours, emails, and I think they’re doing a really good job of it,” Davis said.

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on May 25, 2020.