Can’t afford the time or money necessary to visit colleges in person? Or is Covid still messing with your travel plans? No worries. You can make a virtual visit! Just follow the virtual tour directions below. It should take you a couple of hours and by the end you’ll feel like you’ve been there!
You’re going to start your tour by imagining you are on-campus right now. The easiest way to do that is to google images for the college. It never fails that the iconic buildings on campus will come up. For example, if you google images for Princeton, the first images that come up are those of the Tower on the Princeton campus. And, of course, you can imagine you are there on a picture-perfect day because those are the images that you’ll see.
Now that you are on-campus, orient yourself by downloading a campus map and marking where you are starting. You can usually find good ones on the college’s own website. Sometimes there is not a downloadable map, but instead an interactive map. If so, keep a tab open with the interactive map because you’re going to come back to it at each stop, so you can get a feel for navigating the campus. Google maps have also gotten much more detailed for college campuses, so you can check those too.
Stop 1. The Registrar’s Office. What’s a registrar and why are you going there first? Well, the Registrar’s Office provides support for your academic life. And since college is first and foremost an academic experience, we’ve made it your first stop. You’ll find a page for the Registrar’s Office on the college’s website. Explore and see if you can find out a few key things:
Hint: The answers to these questions can ALWAYS be found in the University Bulletin (a bulletin is an official legal document that the university is required to maintain and it will include this information). For example, here is the 2019-20 Bulletin for Duke.
Stop 2. A Classroom Building. Now that you know the basics when it comes to your academic life, you’ll want to see where you are going to be taking your classes. You can choose a classroom building at random OR you can visit the building where one of the three classes you’d be excited to take is being offered (you’ll have to find the class schedule to do that). Again, google images for the particular building. See if you can find interior shots of the classrooms.
Are they large lecture halls (auditorium style), smaller “desks forward” classrooms, small seminar style classrooms, or a mix? Try to imagine yourself there with other students. For you science types, also find out what a lab looks like.
For example, here is a picture of a 140-student auditorium style classroom at USC’s Taper Hall where the Principles of Microeconomics class often meets.
Stop 3. A Professor’s Office. You want to find out exactly how accessible your professors are. Why? Because students who engage with their professors are generally more successful. Frankly, the campus grapevine is the best source of information for professor accessibility: the online version of the campus grapevine on this issue is the Professor Accessibility information found in the campus topics section of the Unigo page for the college. What you find might surprise you – for example, see how Columbia stacks up against Harvard. If you really want to dig into this topic, you can research some of the professors at the college and see if you can find their office hours. It is often found on their web page or on a syllabus for a particular course (which you can often find linked to the course listing that you located on Stop 1).
Stop 4. Campus Life. Your next stop is the hub for campus life – usually it is a student center, but sometimes it has a different name or things are spread out across campus. For example, at the University of Chicago, there are several hubs for campus life, but the hub for the student organizations and campus-wide social events is the Center for Leadership and Involvement. Locate the list of active student organizations (or clubs). Now pretend you are at the involvement fair and every organization has a table and a couple of representatives there to talk with you. Which tables will you visit? You’ll no doubt have an opportunity to attend a fair like this in the fall of your freshman year – almost every college has one. If you want insight into the arts culture, Greek life, sports, or political activism, go back to Unigo and look to see what students have to say by looking at those headings under campus topics. For example, you’ll see that University of Chicago is a place where arts and politics dominate campus life, sports aren’t their thing, and Greek life matters only to a small minority.
Stop 5. A Freshman Residence Hall. Even if you only end up sleeping at your residence hall, you’ll spend at least one-quarter of your freshman year there. So you owe it to yourself to check it out. Freshman living accommodations vary widely – some are housed together without upperclass students; some are housed in “live and learn” communities where you share interests and coursework as well as living together; some are in traditional single-sex dorms and the list goes on. For example, at Georgetown, freshmen live in one of four residence halls or in one of five Living Learning Communities (LLC). Read up on the options for freshmen and take yourself on a tour. Look for floor plans, interior images, and details that bring your future home to life. And when you’ve finished checking things out, head over to the ratings on Niche.com and see how recent and current students rate the on-campus housing. In our experience, these particular ratings are usually pretty spot-on. For example, Georgetown, despite it’s A+ for location, only gets a C- when it comes to dorms.
Stop 6. The Dining Hall. Now that you’ve seen where you’ll live, it’s time to find out where you’ll eat. Unlike days of yore, “the dining hall” is usually a collection of on-campus eateries where you can eat using your meal plan. For example, Notre Dame offers its students two traditional dining halls, along with several restaurants, express eateries, and a food court. And its meal plan includes an option where you can buy “Domer Dollars” to spend at select off-campus restaurants. Check out the places you could dine and find out what’s on the menu. Does it sound tasty? Meet your dietary needs? Again Niche.com is your go-to source for getting a feel for the quality of the food. They give Notre Dame an A+.
Stop 7. The Fitness Center or a Sports Field. Sleep, food, now exercise. Yes, we think it is important that you stay healthy at college! What activity are you going to do? Work out, play sports, some of each? Every college will have opportunities for you, and most colleges have gotten very serious about promoting student wellness. For example, at Yale you could workout at Payne Whitney Gymnasium (described as a fitness enthusiast’s dream), play an intramural sport, or go the Good Life Center and do some meditation to reduce stress.
Stop 8. Participate in a College Tradition. Nothing says more about a college than its traditions. Google the name of the college and the word “traditions” to see if you can find out a few. Often you’ll find descriptions of traditions on the college website, on a Wikipedia page, or in articles from the school’s newspaper. Here’s a good rundown on traditions at Penn – who knew toast throwing was a thing? -- from the “new student orientation issue” of The Daily Pennsylvanian.
That’s it. Your virtual college tour is done – and you didn’t have to leave the couch!
Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.