Virtual tours, online admissions tools can’t replace college visits

By Courtney Kaplar ’16

Physically visiting colleges had a huge impact on where I decided to apply, as well as what school I ultimately decided to attend.  Of course, I didn’t base my choices on scenic views or how much free merchandise prospective students received at an admissions office. But I did notice small aspects of the campus such as the dress of the tour guides and the strength of its recycling program. Visiting a school was so significant because I was able to get as close as possible to experiencing life there.

In 2012, Google+ launched “Google Hangouts on Air,” which enables current college students to discuss their schools live on the Internet with prospective students and their parents, who can also engage in the conversation by asking questions or making comments.  In a way, this new development technically renders the physical visit almost unnecessary, since all the information about a school can be found online or obtained via web chat or email.  Such a system highly benefits those who cannot make the physical visit due to financial reasons, since plane tickets, hotels and restaurants can get expensive.  Furthermore, there are plenty of perfectly content students who have never visited their school’s campus before attending.

While Google Hangouts on Air may seem ideal, I still strongly believe that it is somewhat necessary to physically visit a school before deciding to attend.  Doing so can give a prospective student a much better sense of the campus’ social dynamics. It can also help students picture themselves on a campus in the future.  Furthermore, if campus dining is especially important to a prospective student, it certainly helps to physically visit the campus’ dining halls and taste the food that they have to offer.

I am not suggesting that every single prospective student should visit every school that he or she considers attending. For some, distance and travel costs make tours and overnights unrealistic—if not impossible—to coordinate before an application deadline. But if a visit is possible, seeing a campus and its culture in person makes the testimonials in the Princeton Review all the more tangible. Plus, a physical visit—as opposed to a virtual or one of the Google Hangouts on Air—provides prospective students with an opportunity to express their interest in a school, either through an interview or an informal conversation with a student or faculty member.

Seeing prospective students touring campus equipped with their blue folders and parents reminds me of where I was two years ago and how much I have changed since then.  I loved hosting prospective students last year through the Office of Admissions just because I was allowed and even encouraged to talk about everything regarding my Hamilton experience.  Will Google’s new systems change the way prospective students go through the college decision process? But if prospective students believe they can learn everything they need to about a college online, I would encourage them to consider making at least one trip to a campus. The difference between reading and hearing an opinion of a school and seeing it in person is tremendous.


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