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Virtual college visits convenient, not same as in-person

February 27, 2021

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a couple virtual college visits, and I’ve found that although they are convenient, they don’t provide the same experience as in-person ones.

The first virtual visit I went on was to Hamilton College, a small liberal arts college in upstate New York. The second one I went on was to Beloit College, another small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. Prior to the pandemic, I also went on a college visit in-person to Creighton University.

The most obvious benefit of a virtual visit—other than, of course, the ability to stay safe during the pandemic—is the amount of time and effort it saves. Both virtual visits I went on lasted about an hour, and I never even had to leave my room. Needless to say, it would have taken me a whole lot longer to get to Wisconsin, let alone upstate New York.

The other big benefit is the low cost. It’s practically free to go on a virtual visit, while an in-person visit, especially an out-of-state one, can end up being expensive once you factor in the cost of travel, a hotel room, and food.

This means that I’m able to visit many more places than I might have otherwise, and ones in locations that may have been inconvenient to get to, all at virtually—pun intended—no cost.

However, that’s where the benefits stop. Although these visits are a whole lot easier and cheaper to attend, I didn’t feel like they provided me with the full experience of an in-person college visit.

On my visit to Hamilton, my tour guide showed me around campus over a Zoom call. At Beloit, there was a video walk-through playing as my tour guides talked and answered questions.

I will say that the Hamilton tour was much better since I was able to see the campus as it looked in a more realistic light, and not in a video that was shot on the most beautiful day in fall with filters to make it look even better. On top of that, the video was too slow in some parts for the tour guides, which made for long, awkward pauses, and too fast in others, which made them skip over talking about some buildings.

But even though Hamilton’s virtual visit style was better, it was still missing something that I got on my in-person visit to Creighton: a window into the campus—getting a feel for the atmosphere, seeing people there, seeing what if feels like to stand inside one of their buildings, to walk up the main path in the cold.

Those are things that might not seem all that important—and maybe they’re not—but I left the virtual visits feeling that I hadn’t learned anything more about what it would be like to attend those colleges.

But for right now, these visits will have to do. In terms of giving you the full campus experience, they’re not the best, but talking to college students and learning about how they feel about their school is still a valuable experience. I would recommend going on an in-person visit if you can and if you feel safe, but if you can’t or don’t, virtual visits are the next best thing and can still be a good way to judge a college.

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