Spring is on the way; the season when flowers bloom, the days get longer and warmer, and high school juniors and seniors traditionally flock to visit college campuses as they decide where to apply or attend. But for the last two years, the pandemic has caused colleges and universities to eliminate or scale back on-campus visits and move towards virtual visits for prospective students. This means some students won't get to see their first choice schools in person before applying or accepting. It also means fewer families will spend their spring breaks shuffling behind undergrads who seems preternaturally good at walking backwards, as they peek into dining halls and listen to stories about the history and traditions of yet another school.
The good news (in case that wasn't it for you) — colleges have now had a full year to build out their virtual visit resources, and many have come up with some pretty amazing offerings. We've highlighted the best virtual visit in each region of the country and why we loved it, so you can start planning your virtual college tour this spring.
Best Virtual Campus Visit on the East Coast: Williams College in Williamstown, MA
Students outside of a red brick building on the Williams' College campus
Williams College has been ranked one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation for decades, so it's not surprising that their virtual tour also ranks among the best. In an efficient nine minutes, their recorded campus tour hits on many of things students and their families really want to see, including a look inside the dorms and the food served in the dining hall, as well as the art gallery, dance studio, athletic facility, and the stunning library, which includes a 3-D printing room and recording studio. If you like what you see, you can sign up for a group chat with a real student or attend a virtual information session focused on topics like how to afford college, sustainability on campus, or resources for first generation students. If the times offered don't work for you, watch one of the many prerecorded videos with tips for parents and students on applying to Williams. And, if you want to see firsthand what academics are like at one of the nation's top liberal arts schools, you can watch a recording of a Williams class like Music in Film, or Why the Impacts of Climate Change are So Unfair.But our favorite part? Williams offers Windows on WIlliams (WOW), a special application-only program for high-achieving students who can't visit campus. Students accepted into the WOW program will get a personalized and tailored virtual visit experience, including the opportunity to meet directly with professors and students. Applications for WOW open in April 2021.
Best Virtual Campus Tour in the South: Tulane University in New Orleans, LA
Stanley Thomas Hall at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA
Tulane's 25-minute recorded campus tour features two real students and feels a lot like an actual campus walking tour, but with peppy music and faster walking. The tour not only highlights campus buildings and student life, but speaks to the traditions that make the school special, like Friday "Donuts with the Dean" on the porch of Cudd Hall, where students can grab free donuts and coffee and chat with a dean. They also how the famous Mardi Gras tree, where admitted students throw beaded necklaces into the branches, and if they stick, it's supposed to be good luck for your four years.
Tulane also offers a host of other virTUal resources, including an interactive campus map, opportunities to book live virtual tours, and webinars on many topics, including pre-recorded sessions relevant to people applying to other schools too, like tips for parents of prospective college students and tips and tricks for applying to selective colleges.But hands-down the best part of Tulane's virtual tour is the work out Admissions Director Jeff Schiffman. If you need some exercise after hours of sitting through virtual tours, Schiffman has you covered. You can do a 40-minute recorded workout with him and his adorable dog. Just remember, sound on and don't forget water and a towel.
Best Virtual Campus Visit in the Midwest: University of Wisconsin - Madison in Madison, WI
Quad in front of Memorial Union on University of Wisconsin - Madison campus in Madison, WI
The University of Wisconsin - Madison's interactive map is one of the best we saw. It features a panoramic photo of the school's campus, which is flanked by water on both sides, and offers many clickable pinpoints to learn more about key spots on campus. Each pinpoint brings up a video of a real student talking about the campus spot and its history (for those history buffs missing the lesson) or a slideshow featuring photos taken at different times, so you can get a feel for what it's like to be there. They also offer an array of live and prerecorded virtual events, including information sessions for each school, and resources on topics prospective students typically want to know about, like the study abroad opportunities offered, and sessions on "Tuition and how to pay for it" and "How to submit a strong college application."
But what really sets apart the UW - Madison virtual visit is how easy it is for prospective students to connect with current students. UW - Madison offers special instagram live "Ask Me Anything" sessions with real UW students and staff tailored to specific student groups, like first generation students or transfer students. And it was the only school we saw where prospective students can schedule a 15 minute one-on-one phone call with an actual campus tour guide to ask your specific college questions in a private space.
Best Virtual Campus Visit on the West Coast: Pepperdine University's Seaver College in Malibu, CA
A view from the Santa Monica mountains of Pepperdine University in Malibu, CAen.wikipedia.org
Pepperdine University's virtual visit page opens with a sweeping bird's-eye view of the campus that may make you a little sorry you weren't able to visit Seaver College's Malibu campus in person. From up above, it's easy to see how close campus is to the Pacific Ocean. This not-terrible view is visible from the main part of campus, and can be glimpsed in the self-guided 365 virtual tour or one of the quick campus highlight videos. The virtual tour also highlights the school's signature cream-colored buildings with terracotta roofs, the impressive Eddy D. Field Baseball Stadium, and the outdoor pool, which shines like a cyan jewel in the center of campus.
But our favorite part and the thing that really sets Pepperdine apart as one the very best virtual college visits is the impressive docuseries Rising Tide. Grab some popcorn and watch all four seasons as it follows five real Pepperine students through their four years at the school.
Explore more schools' virtual offerings
The four schools mentioned above stood out, but many schools throughout the country are offering in-depth and creative online resources for prospective students who won't be able to visit campus in person. One upside of online visits is that, with no travel time or hotel costs to factor in, you can virtually-visit more schools, and you may even find that some new colleges rise to the top of your list. Be sure to visit the websites of any schools you're even a little interested in to see what the virtual events and tools are being offered this spring, and sign up now for the sessions you want to attend.One last virtual visit pro tip: if you get glassy eyed sitting in front of the computer for too long, download this coloring book featuring masterpieces from the Yale University Art Gallery's collection to keep your hands busy as you follow along with your virtual tour guides.