As Coronavirus Closes Colleges, the Campus Tour Goes Virtual

Virtual Reality

As Coronavirus Closes Colleges, the Campus Tour Goes Virtual

By Wade Tyler Millward     Mar 18, 2020

As Coronavirus Closes Colleges, the Campus Tour Goes Virtual

This article is part of the collection: Sustaining Higher Education in the Coronavirus Crisis.

When a cardboard virtual reality headset from University of Oregon arrived in the mail earlier this year, high school senior Risa Carter saw the device as an interesting attempt by one university to stand out from others at a time when students start to weigh their college choices.

Now, the marketing gimmick, used by U of O since 2018, has taken on new importance. COVID-19 fears have caused hundreds of colleges to cancel classes, according to a count by education consultant Bryan Alexander. For U of O, which has canceled campus tours through April 18, those headsets are a new lifeline to students like Carter—who might have to use digital and online tools to help decide where to attend college in the fall.

“I’m looking at the schools I applied to and how they’re dealing with the situation,” says Carter, a student at Saratoga High School in California. “Are they taking care of their students? Is my college going to take care of me?”

University of Oregon explainer of cardboard VR headsets

Status: Pending

Universities nationwide have begun rolling back admissions deadlines and pointing students online to get a taste of on-campus life. Colleges typically abide by a May 1 deadline for undergraduate students to accept admission as outlined in the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s code of ethics. But some have already shifted the deadline to June 1.

The organization has a chart online to track changes in college admission events and deposit dates but recommends students stay in touch with individual schools for the latest information. Some plan to host virtual admissions events instead of on campus ones.

Graduate students are a different story. April 15 is a common deadline to accept financial support from a university the following academic year. These types of support include graduate scholarships, fellowships and assistantships. The Council of Graduate Schools, a national organization for graduate deans, hasn’t changed its deadline but cautions that individual colleges and programs could move theirs.

More answers to questions around school deadlines and other changes due to COVID-19 are available at EdSurge’s coronavirus FAQ page.

A list of schools that follow the April 15 deadline, compiled by the organization, is here. To date, no major graduate school adjustments have been announced.

The Virtual Experience

Various platforms host virtual tours of campuses, including YouVisit and Concept3D, formerly known as CampusBird. Another company, CampusReel, provides student-generated videos of campuses.

In a blog post published this week, Concept3D provided tips to make the most of virtual tours, including integrating social media and email to chat with virtual tourists. CampusReel has seen four times the use as COVID-10 has progressed, according to an email from the company.

The Concept3D interface

YouVisit parent company EAB has provided advice on conducting virtual meetings, including creation of a live, editable document where everyone can contribute notes and how to use polls to hold the audience's attention. EAB advises its partner schools not to cease enrollment marketing efforts altogether.

“Colleges that go silent this spring risk doing long-term damage to their enrollment funnels, reducing the size of their inquiry pools in a way that could take years to correct,” according to a post by Michael Koppenheffer, EAB vice president of marketing programs and general manager of talent marketing services.

Carter, the aspiring nursing or environmental science major, managed to fit in a visit to University of Hawaii before the latest travel restrictions around COVID-19 hit the Bay Area, where she lives. A virtual tour would have missed the awe of standing under campus trees and feeling the breeze, she says.

For now she’s taken to YouTube to watch videos of campuses she planned to visit in April, but she misses the interaction with tour guides, having a person immediately answer questions on the schools’ programs and campus organizations. And lately she’s began wondering whether she should attend school closer to home in case something like COVID-19 ever happens again. “That’s more of a priority than it was before,” she says.

Example of a CampusReel video from New Jersey Institute of Technology
Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

Next Up

Sustaining Higher Education in the Coronavirus Crisis

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up