Tuesday, September 22

A guide to selecting a college without stepping foot on campus 

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Dawn DiPeri

by Dawn DiPeri

The virtual college visit may be the way of the future. Here’s what to look for, and how to tell if a college is right for you.

This article addresses the ways in which high school students and their families can visit and research colleges without even stepping foot on campus. With COVID-19, families may choose to skip the tour and instead use virtual tools to navigate the online college shopping experience. I argue that prior to the recent pandemic families were able to feel confident in their college-choice decisions because they were able to attend college fairs in person and take on-campus tours with ease. With recent advances in virtual technology and readily available data, however, it can be possible to make a decision confidently about where to go to school beforehand despite never having the in-person experience.

Topics:

  • How to visit a college virtually
  • Various online tools can help
  • Factors that contribute to college choice
  • Quality of online programs
  • Conclusion

How to visit a college virtually

Teens are no stranger to virtual reality experiences. Many already own headsets or have participated in a virtual reality or augmented reality experience. Few have even taken virtual tours in various ways, whether on an exercise bike, in their high school classroom, or while playing video games with friends. Parents may have used virtual reality when shopping for homes and most are accustomed to making large purchases online. Virtual college shopping has been around for some time and recently has become the norm as families hesitate to make on-site visits due to fear of COVID-19 infections. Luckily, several companies provide live and recorded virtual visits and many have built-in live chats, or bots that answer questions along the way. Companies, and sometimes students, produce videos that offer authentic 360-degree experiences with surround-sound.

StriveScan is a digital app that scans a geographical region to alert prospective students of local college fairs. It is also a tool that offers free, virtual college exploration opportunities for students and their families. Students are able to speak with admission officers and gain important college information by watching and attending virtual presentations and sessions. More than 500 colleges and universities have participated in StriveScan virtual- college exploration and that number is expected to grow.

CampusTours claims to be the No. 1 website offering interactive maps and virtual tours. College students able not only to visit the campus but also to explore the cities in which they are located with photo-realistic walking tours, interactive guides and maps. The website is mobile-responsive, offers panoramic virtual-reality tours of the grounds, and allows you to visit inside several academic, residential and community campus buildings. Additionally, if you do decide to step foot on campus, the app can pinpoint where the visitor is in real time and serve up additional tour information based on their location. This feature may come in handy for families that are comfortable walking the grounds but too nervous to step inside buildings like dorms or a cafeteria.

YouVisit is a website with a wide range of virtual tours from hundreds of institutions all in one place. The website has an easy search function and an easy-to-navigate sitemap with a simple tile-like video gallery. Access is free and there is a direct connection to the school within the tour. YouVisit has 360-degree photos and videos to enable exploration. It also has built-in clickable features embedded within the videos for a more interactive learning experience.

CampusReel offers a refreshing, authentic experience for students and their families. All virtual-reality experiences and videos are created by students. CampusReels is sure to check student videos for appropriateness, but the idea is that it is fully created by students for students versus a carefully created high budget marketing reel. CampusReel claims to have honest insight into the college experience from the perspective of students and through the lens of campus life, including academics, clubs, sports, and extracurriculars. Prospective students can peek in to get a glimpse of the social scene both on campus and in virtual online communities.

Online tools

There are college-assessment attributes to consider besides virtual tours and maps. It is always important to analyze the data about retention, graduation rates, job-placement rates, tuition, class sizes, and size of the university. Some colleges may be well known to be highly selective or desirable for their college sports, but the tuition may put them out of the running for most families. Students still should seek programs that are affordable and to borrow responsibly. Although high school students may not return to a physical school this fall, several available online resources analyze a wide variety of contributing factors that go into play when selecting a college. 

The College Scorecard is just one online tool used to compare and contrast programs, costs, admissions criteria and selectivity, and information about current and former student outcomes. The site also allows you to search schools in a specific geographic location for selectivity, graduation rates, associate and bachelor’s degree programs, and more. In addition, it allows students to start a FASFA form so that they can find out what sorts of aid they are entitled to. 

Quality of online programs

A robust, high-quality online program should be a key deciding factor when selecting a college. Additionally, students need to look for online programs that are high quality and robust with plenty of offerings. Students should look for programs that have several sections of an online course to ensure they are getting their requirements met for graduation. Sadly, students might not be able to set foot on campus for quite some time. Colleges are scrambling to increase online program offerings. Many have started to invest in quality-assurance programs like Quality Matters. Colleges with a Quality Matters certificate know how to create a well-conceived, well-designed, well-presented course and program. Their goal as non-profits is to provide a system that delivers a review of programs and allows for improvement and a certificate of quality. To move from an emergency migration to online courses to the creation of high-quality courses and programs, institutions need to invest in instructional design. Look for a college with a solid Learning Management System (LMS), ed-tech tools designed for engagement, and instructors that know how to work them. 

Conclusion

It may be hard to select a college without visiting it in person. But with a variety of dynamic educational tools and technologies in place, the prospective student and family can navigate the complex decision-making process with less stress. Also, once students have used these data and visualization tools to narrow their lists, they can send customized emails and make phone calls to admissions personnel who are equipped to answer questions and concerns. Deciding on where to go to college may be one of the most difficult financial decisions families have to make. When they are equipped with knowledge, however, they can make that decision with confidence.


About the author

Dawn DiPeri

Dr. Dawn Lee DiPeri, MFA, DM has been teaching, writing, designing, and developing courses for the online, face-to-face, and hybrid modalities since 2012. She has taught courses ranging from graphic design, interpersonal communications, and new media. Dawn is a current and active researcher as well as co-owner of East End Advertising, which is a graphic and instructional design agency that specializes in the education, non-profit, and healthcare sectors. Dawn has written for academic journals, newspapers, and magazines mainly on the topics of education and workforce development.

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