A month into 2022, it feels like we’re still living in 2020. After a hopeful summer and fall in many parts of the country, COVID-19 has returned with a vengeance of variants and uncertainty that is rightfully making college admissions and communications offices nervous.
Students are once again changing how they interact with colleges they’re considering attending. We are once again seeing fewer in-person on-campus visits, interactions that are traditionally core to a successful admissions experience. Simply going back to the “old normal” is not enough.
The good news is that virtual experiences are now an option. With the right technology, they can help attract and recruit students while accounting for the uncertainties of an ongoing global pandemic. That’s especially clear in three ways: communicating important information, virtual and self-guided campus visits, and highlighting off-campus points of interest. Let’s dig deeper into each of these opportunities for a virtual campus experience.
1. How virtual experiences can replace curated campus tours
The campus visit remains a crucial part of deciding what university is right for almost every prospective student. When those visits become more difficult or impossible, what can take their place?
Virtual experiences are a natural substitute in this case. They allow universities to provide students with an in-depth look into the campus without having to visit, or even allow them to plan their own, self-guided visit. Wayfinding, an understanding of distances across campus, and even public transportation routes are all valuable pieces of that equation.
For instance, Mount Saint Mary’s University’s 360° Tour presents a classic example of a virtual college tour replacing much of what an in-person tour would provide. It effectively shows off the university’s campus and student life, taking visitors on a linear tour through all the university has to offer.
Mount Saint Mary’s combines that interactive, immersive experience with its more straightforward Interactive Map, which focuses on more streamlined wayfinding opportunities. For example, its Parking and Transit category highlights anything from shuttle stops to electric vehicle shuttle stations, while a Wellness category showcases areas like the university’s farmer’s market and fitness centers.
2. How virtual experiences can communicate crucial, real-life campus information
The right virtual experiences can go a long way towards communicating important information that students and their families look for. That might include anything from current campus closures and hours of operation to ongoing construction projects, which may impact the students’ lives and academic journey once they enroll.
Chabot College’s Interactive Map, for example, includes not just highlights of important offices with their basic information, but also a layer specifically for building construction. That category can help prospective students learn more about the campus while giving current visitors real-time information.
Meanwhile, Southern Utah University’s Interactive Map includes a category focused on Accessibility and Inclusion, in which audiences can learn more about ADA parking, all-gender restrooms, and handicap-accessible paths around campus. In addition to helping potential visitors plan their visit, this information goes a long way towards communicating the welcoming and inclusive attitude of the university.
3. How virtual experiences can expand the view beyond campus borders
Finally, life off-campus is vital for many students considering their future college home. Students and their families want to know about the campus surroundings, from restaurants to points of interest, recreational activities, and attractions. When they can’t explore these areas in person during a college visit, a virtual experience can provide a valuable alternative.
The opportunities to highlight these points of interest can range widely. Sinclair Community College’s virtual tour, for instance, includes multiple stops in downtown Dayton that show anything from the local ballpark to the Riverscape Metro Park. These stops serve to broaden the perspective of the school, and help students get a feel for the surrounding community.
Meanwhile, Michigan Tech’s Interactive Map includes a category for local recreation opportunities, highlighting attractions that range from museums to local hiking trails and even its local ski area. But the map also includes information on local grocery stores and pharmacies, everyday items that students and their families want to know.
The flexible benefits of virtual campus experiences
The renewed challenges of a resurgent COVID-19 have certainly been unfortunate for college admissions and communications. But they’re far from impossible to navigate. In fact, lessons learned during the early days of the pandemic can now pay off for higher education institutions willing and ready to invest in virtual campus experiences.
Created the right way, these virtual experiences can still provide a full campus view for potential students as they look for the right college. Pre-visit information can avoid cancellations, while even cancellations can be followed up with virtual experiences to avoid losing out on the experience.
Getting there, of course, does require a thoughtful plan. That’s where we come in.
Let’s work together to make the most out of the uncertainties created by COVID-19 and keep your enrollment goals on track.