We all agree that there’s something to be said for the “aha” moment a student experiences when they realize your institution is the one for them.  But how can we create that “aha” moment beyond the in-person tour and make it possible in a virtual environment?  In Part One of this post, we talked about why it’s important to think beyond in-person.  Today, we will provide some specific examples of how reimagining virtual tours can create this experience.

Unlike an in-person tour experience that typically spans one or two hours within a day, a virtual tour experience should be thought of as a multi-part process. You will not be able to mimic a one hour in-person tour with a one hour virtual offering in an effective and engaging manner. Virtual tour experiences should be approached as an exploratory experience rather than a one time event.  

As Taylor Swaak alludes in The Chronicle of Higher Education, many of these virtual tour experiences are often built off of what the institution’s decision makers determine to be the best highlights of their campus as opposed to what their prospective and admitted audiences want and need to feel a sense of belonging within that campus. While there are many campus tour staples your institution will choose to include in your virtual offerings, I have outlined three additional offerings to keep in mind that integrate what students want to see. 

Excitement and Authenticity

Part of what makes in-person tours so effective is the overly excited and enthusiastic student ambassadors who run them. Do not miss the opportunity to incorporate your bubbly and spirited campus culture into your virtual tours. Deck out your tour guides, whether these are admissions counselors or students, in your school’s swag. Your audience will feed off whatever energy you provide them, so the more enthusiastic your virtual tour feels, the more enthusiastic your viewers will be to continue to learn more about your institution. If you are wondering what I mean by bringing the right enthusiasm and energy into your virtual tours, take a look at Prairie View A&M’s virtual Senior Day at the Hill

Bring in parts of your campus that make you authentic. Feature your campus mascot in your video or event if possible. Does your campus look beautiful in the fall? Record a special fall feature campus tour where you showcase the look, feel, and activity that’s unique to your campus or community. Don’t limit yourself to what you typically say and see in person. You are no longer limited to what is walkable in a 30 minute to an hour session. 

Student Voices at the Center

We all know students want to hear from students. So instead of having your virtual tour focused on an admissions presentation with key points showcased in different parts of your campus, bring in your student ambassadors and have them craft an outside of the box virtual experience. Statistics that a student can find on their own online, either on your website or through search engines, is not something that you need to include in your virtual tour experience.  

Ditch the powerpoints, and instead use real footage of students walking and talking around campus, entering into academic and campus buildings, residence halls, and dining facilities,  and interviewing faculty and other students at their favorite spots on campus. If you have specific campus traditions or activities that students, faculty, and alumni love, think about showcasing that experience. Don’t just touch on the brand name building on your campus; consider also spotlighting the most popular places for your students to hang — whether that is a grassy quad, a picnic area, or a water feature on campus — that a student wouldn’t know about without having attended a tour.

Don’t forget your Local Community

One of the most influential factors of college decision making is location. Students may start the college search thinking they will prefer living in an urban environment, a small town, a rural community, or within a city. Yet, by giving students a glimpse of what they could experience in your specific community, especially if it differs from their original assumptions, you can open your audiences’ minds to a whole new array of institutions to choose from, including your own. So make sure to spotlight the holistic community that your institution resides in. Where do most of your students spend their weekends when they decide they want to get off campus? Where do they go after school hours to buy groceries and personal items? 

Showcase your students’ favorite local eateries, where they like to work out, what local organizations and community gatherings happen, and what students do on the weekends. If your campus is within a small town, showcase the spirited and connected community feel this brings to your institution. If your campus is near a city, spotlight how your urban location provides a plethora of opportunities to explore on the weekends and engage with local businesses, tour museums, and become true foodies. 

In Conclusion

Virtual engagement is here to stay, and while you will still get in-person visits, the demographics of those who will visit your school in person won’t represent the demographics your institution is trying to recruit and retain for your incoming classes. While there are many tools and techniques out there for hosting virtual tours: 

  • Diversify your virtual offerings and tailor these to what your prospective and admitted students want
  • Avoid repetitive statistics and powerpoint info session presentations
  • Include your current students’ voices at the center of all of your offerings
  • Focus on fostering a sense of excitement and belonging between your audience, your current students, and your campus
  • Remember that your campus is a part of a broader, interconnected community and highlight this harmony to spark even more excitement and fit with your audience

While there are many topics you can cover and locations you can showcase during a virtual tour, make sure, by providing an array of topics, spotlights, and engagement opportunities, you increase your chances of offering content that fits the needs of your diverse student population.

Interested in advancing your virtual tour and engagement offerings but not sure what platform to use in order to host all of your content in one easy to access, branded environment? Consider using tools, such as Conduit, to provide a library of content for students to scroll through and access.