As college visits and open houses have shrunk to a minimum, virtual tour software has taken center stage. An astounding 80% of high school students rate visiting campus as either ‘very’ or ‘extremely important’. When that isn’t possible, digital alternatives have not just entered the discussions but taken center stage.
The need for and benefits of virtual tours, of course, range far beyond a simple band-aid that can help the recruitment process right now. For years, they’ve helped schools attract students who can’t physically visit or just want a quick reminder of what campus is like. The COVID-19 pandemic has just accelerated that process.
Now, almost every school has at least some type of virtual tour software. That means if you truly want to stand out, you have to take further steps to distinguish your university in your students’ consideration set. That something might just be a college-specific tour.
In other words, a single tour that covers your entire university may no longer be enough. It still has unique benefits, as we’ll detail below. But why not go further?
Join us for an exploration into more specific 360 tours within that larger overview, as well as tips on how to find the right virtual tour software for your needs.
The Benefits of a University-Wide Virtual 360 Tour
Consider this more of a recap. If you already have a well-built university-wide tour, feel free to skip to the next section. Still, it’s important to consider and remember just why you built that tour to begin with. These are the top benefits of using virtual tours in your college recruitment:
- Build familiarity with your campus and its facilities, which is relevant both for students and families living beyond 50 miles from campus and those with very specific career expectations.
- Stand out online, offering an interactive experience that goes far beyond the typically static nature of a website. Think of it as a choose-your-own-adventure book, but in beautiful virtual reality.
- Highlight your university’s unique features. We’ve seen schools emphasize the surrounding town, their green initiatives, and other distinguishing factors on campus.
- Engage your audience, especially as you build in connections to the rest of your website and digital presence. Why not build in a live feed of your social media channels?
These benefits stand, but you can build on them and make them stand out even more if you build on the university-wide tour with school-specific variations. Let’s dive deeper into the why behind that build-up effect.
The Unique Needs of College and School-Specific Marketing and Promotions
Virtual tour software, even following many of the benefits above, tend to focus on the university as a whole. You’ll find stops on the dining hall, those fancy dorm rooms, the gym, and maybe an academic building or two.
That’s enough to get a high school student’s interest. But it might not be enough to get their decision on whether studying their preferred major at your school is actually the right choice. That’s where college-specific virtual tour software comes into play.
In other words, it’s about the detail. The virtual tour in a business college, for instance, can offer multiple stops in the building, showcasing:
- Student lounges and computer labs.
- Bloomberg labs or other technology rooms.
- Various classrooms, outfitted to fit specific majors.
- And much more.
By highlighting these efforts, you build a much more personalized marketing experience. In addition to getting the university overview, you’re able to dig into the specific benefits of your college. Just as a typical open house would have a general section followed by school-specific breakouts, the virtual tour software goes into that same approach.
That general process, of course, is especially true if you have a college on campus that has built its own unique brand. Your school of business, school of law, or school of social work may have prestige that’s worth highlighting on its own.
Think UPenn’s Wharton School, Harvard Law, or the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work. In these examples, the school has more unique aspects than just a name. It’s an institution within the institution, sometimes even with its own logo and brand identity under the ‘master brand’. A virtual tour can emphasize these unique factors.
Those opportunities get magnified even further if your school is named for a donor. Now, you have a spot to highlight that donor, nurturing the relationship further and leveraging the virtual tour not just in recruitment, but advancement efforts as well.
Building Virtual Experiences to Satisfy a Unique College Recruitment Cycle
All of the above, of course, is true regardless of the time. A college-specific virtual tour would hit these points, regardless of whether a pandemic would throw typical recruitment efforts into the wind. But that’s exactly what’s happening. Therefore, the need for a college-specific 360 tour has become more significant than ever.
Those college-specific open house breakouts we detailed above? For many universities, they’re not happening or even feasible in the digital realm. Instead, these universities keep their virtual event shorter and more general to keep their audience’s attention span.
But the need for college and even major-specific information is not going away. In fact, in a weakening economy with major career uncertainties, the emphasis on picking the right major is only going to increase. That’s why your virtual efforts should include engaging school-specific digital experience.
Here’s how a recent article by Inside Higher Ed put it in an article titled The Future of the Campus Tour:
If you want your students to enroll this fall, you have to make sure they have an emotional connection with your college. The recruiting conditions are more competitive than ever, and that connection is going to be the defining factor. It’s not just about getting them through the door, either — students that feel a sense of belonging will stay and they will succeed.
When that can’t happen in person, the virtual tour is the next step. And where better to build that connection than with a school-specific tour? Students can experience not just their future university, but their future classrooms, hangout spots, and study areas?
Integrating School and University-Wide Tours for a Comprehensive Experience
As detailed above, you need a university-wide tour, and you can benefit significantly from a school or college-specific tour. But at the same time, the two can’t exist in isolation. Instead, they have to build on one another to truly provide a comprehensive virtual experience for your prospective students and their parents.
That means it’s all about integration. Ideally, your individual tours build on each other, providing both a broad overview and a nuanced look into the college. A few simple steps can help you get there:
- Have the same team working on both tours, or at least consult the team that worked on one as you’re working on the other.
- Keep the narration the same or at least using the same cadence, potentially even referencing the broader tour in its more specific counterpart.
- Interlink the two tours. In relevant spots, make sure your audience can easily find their way from one to the other seamlessly and without searching.
- Use the same virtual tour software to make sure that they look as two parts of a greater whole, not two entirely separate platforms.
Of course, you can take other steps as well. For instance, you can source media from the university’s general virtual tour software for your school-specific tour. You can still add a great amount of detail that makes it more relevant for this audience segment. However, this step can actually save time to implementation and reduce costs for building the platform.
How to Find the Right Virtual Tour Software for Your Need
As we’ve highlighted above, building your virtual tours on the same platform has some distinct benefits. It’s not absolutely essential but can help integrate the multiple virtual walk-throughs. But that’s only true if you can find virtual tour software designed to help you build the tour you need.
That means doing some research. Inform yourself about the various virtual tour vendors in this space. But be careful: some of them have just recently begun to offer this type of platform, responding entirely to the pandemic. Orient yourself towards potential partners who have been in business for a while, and have built credibility and expertise in working with other universities and colleges.
Next, look at their examples of virtual tours that mirror your needs. Do you like what you see? Can you envision something like that easily for your college, as well? If so, it’s time for a conversation, to learn more about aspects like pricing and features to make the tour more engaging.
We’d love to have that conversation with you. Our experience in the virtual 360 tour spaces stretches back years, and we’ve helped countless universities (as well as individual colleges within these universities) build experiences designed to match their brand and their audience’s needs. Contact us today to start the conversation.