As more colleges feature virtual campus tours online, prospective students can explore a school's grounds without ever setting foot on campus.
It's no secret students want to check out the lay of a school's land prior to applying. However increasingly, parents and students posses less money and time to pile into the family car and drive cross country for physical visits to a lengthy list of schools.
Colleges are seeing the potential pay-offs online tour services can have for their recruitment efforts. Digital formats eliminate the restraints time, cost and attention spans present.
The growing popularity of colleges' virtual tours is relieving some of the financial burden prospective students face when planning visits to distant college campuses.
Abi Mandelbaum, whose company, YouVisit, creates virtual walking tours for universities, said about 80 percent of applicants would visit no more than four college campuses physically. Students indicated that campus visits were a major factor in their decision making.
According to the Los Angeles Times, YouVisit has partnered with 150 universities since its inception in 2008 and gives a tour resembling a "souped-up Google Street View with an undergraduate narrator." The tours showcase major landmarks on the schools' campuses likely to be covered by in-person tours.
Yale University's virtual tour takes visitors through the campus' grounds with a student tour guide explaining each area from the screen's bottom right corner. Visitors can pause the tour and enhance their insight into campus life by clicking on photos, panoramic views and videos of each area supplied at the top of the screen.
In recent times however, campus tours have gotten even more technologically advanced.
Andrew Hughes, President of Designing Digitally, Inc., says he offers a unique product to universities looking to develop virtual campus tours that surpasses existing models' attempts to personalize visitors' experiences.
In a phone interview with HuffPost, Hughes said his company's products, called 3D Virtual Campus Tours, were modeled for a generation coming of age on video games.
"This is much different than other virtual campus tours," he said.
Hughes argues that today's high schoolers are acclimated to the 3D space of a video game and thus these students would be more engaged in the virtual campus designed like a video game than they would just clicking around and looking at buildings.
Indeed, 3D Virtual Campus Tours looks nothing like the well-photographed images and video footage most college campus tours host.
The promotional sample on the company's website looks like a version of "The Sims" computer video game. In order to tour the campus, students must first create avatars, which are cyber versions of themselves. Hughes compares the roaming mode offered by the virtual tour to the style of movement featured in the video game "Grand Theft Auto."
The tour's developers also keep the colleges' dorms, buildings and facilities to scale so, as an avatar, students may gain a similar dimensional perspective of the college as they would if they were on-site. The campus tour's design is heavily detailed, according to Hughes. Developers photograph the buildings' actual floorings, then match those images to the virtual floors' grounds.
Student must fill out a profile of their academic interests before being allowed to explore the school grounds. This information is shot over to the school's admission's office, where a live admissions representative is available to offer suggestions to the student via headset (like in "World of Warcraft," according to Hughes) or instant messaging based on the students' interests. The student can also fire back questions to the admissions representative about the school, a feature Hughes says makes the virtual tour unlike others.
Like most video games, the campus tours also asks students to complete small, often sports-related tasks, for points.
A 3D Virtual Campus Tour of the United States Air Force Academy is available, and Hughes says the school's enrollment increased by 10 to 15 percent since the launch of its virtual campus tour.
"It's the closest thing you can get to an on-ground campus tour," said Hughes.
Beautiful College Campuses
With a storied history, bustling sports culture, and more than 50 colleges in the city, Boston is one of the most exciting places in the country to be a student, and BU is right in the thick of it. "Often, friends and I would go around the city to eat in Boston's 'little Italy' the North End, or catch a Red Sox game, or go to a local bar and shoot pool. The benefit, for me, of going to college within a city was there never seemed to be a <a href="http://www.unigo.com/boston_university/reviews/3300/ " target="_hplink">shortage of anything to do</a>," says Rachel, a theatre major. Since BU does not have a traditional campus like nearby Northeastern or Harvard, Boston is a major part of every student's day-to-day life. For most, this is a highlight. Sarah, an international relations student, says, "Boston is one the best things about <a href="http://www.unigo.com/boston_university/ " target="_hplink">BU</a>. It is such an amazing city <a href="http://www.unigo.com/boston_university/reviews/19964/ " target="_hplink">to be a student in</a>."
College of Charleston
Charleston is one of the most charming and picturesque cities in the South. Alongside beautiful, historic architecture is a thriving culture filled with exciting restaurants, bars, and clubs. "The location is amazing- downtown Charleston is beautiful and there is always <a href="http://www.unigo.com/college_of_charleston/reviews/2281/ " target="_hplink">something to do</a>," claims Amy, an education major. The <a href="http://www.unigo.com/college_of_charleston/ " target="_hplink">College of Charleston</a> is conveniently located not only for the city, but the surrounding areas as well. Andrea, a biology student, boasts, "Charleston is a vacation destination for many people, so it is cool to live in a place other people are only lucky enough to visit. The beach is 10 minutes away, and on the weekends the campus is deserted due to all the beach bums and surfers who couldn't get to the beach fast enough after class on Friday afternoon. The downtown atmosphere is nice because there is always something to do <a href="http://www.unigo.com/college_of_charleston/reviews/785/ " target="_hplink">within walking distance</a>."
New York University
For students who want to be in the center of, well, everything, there's no place better than <a href="http://www.unigo.com/new_york_university/ " target="_hplink">NYU</a>. Located in New York's Greenwich Village, NYU is in one of the most exciting, fast-paced (and expensive!) neighborhoods in the country. "We're in New York City. Endless opportunities to keep busy. Depending on the weather, the park scene is rockin from the east to the west side. Museums, from the MoMA to the Whitney to Madame Tussaud's, are always a good call. Plus, NYU's discount helps quite a bit. There are poetry clubs and comedy shows, sports games and <a href="http://www.unigo.com/new_york_university/reviews/19247/ " target="_hplink">street performances</a>," explains Victor, a journalism student. Another junior in NYU's business school says, "Of course being in New York City there is always something to do, whether it is going to comedy clubs, dance clubs, jazz clubs, plays, bars, restaurants, museums, sporting events, movies, and just about anything and everything <a href="http://www.unigo.com/new_york_university/reviews/19557/ " target="_hplink">to fit someone's personality</a>."
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, <a href="http://www.unigo.com/tulane_university_of_louisiana/ " target="_hplink">Tulane University</a> was forced to close its doors for the first time since the Civil War. Like the city it calls home, however, Tulane bounced back and remains a prestigious and exciting place to study and occasionally revel in a night of good 'ole debauchery. "The best thing about Tulane is definitely being in New Orleans and the nightlife associated with that. There is <a href="http://www.unigo.com/tulane_university_of_louisiana/reviews/24615 " target="_hplink">always something going on!</a>" says a Tulane sophomore. "There is a lot of great music in New Orleans and a lot of really yummy places to eat. Off campus I go to <a href="http://www.unigo.com/tulane_university_of_louisiana/reviews/24615 " target="_hplink">bars and restaurants within walking distance</a>."
University of California-Berkeley
<a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_california-berkeley/ " target="_hplink">Berkeley</a> is often considered a utopia for the liberal-minded academic, and for good reason. Not only is the city home to one of the country's top universities, but Berkeley is perfectly situated between the nearby mountains and the bustling cultural center of San Francisco. "The big picture is that Berkeley is big, so pretty much anything you want is here. The town doesn't stay out too late, and BART closes at 12:30 (which is a downright shame) but it's never hard to find a happening abode or party with which to meet people. If parties aren't your thing (as they are often overflowing with tools) there are tons of other things to do, <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_california-berkeley/reviews/21799 " target="_hplink">especially in SF</a>," explains Ben, a senior. Another student explains further: "There are plenty of student organizations and activities both on campus and nearby in the Bay Area. Being in a university with tens of thousands of students as well as next to a liberal metropolitan area gives you more options than you can <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_california-berkeley/reviews/23061/ " target="_hplink">probably explore in 4 years</a>."
University of Colorado-Boulder
With delicious restaurants and bars packed wall-to-wall, pedestrian marketplaces lined with high end retail stores, and nationally-renowned music venues, <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_colorado_at_boulder/ " target="_hplink">Boulder</a> might just be the perfect college town. Oh, and did we mention that the town sits at the base of the Rocky Mountains?! "The best thing about Boulder is the endless list of outdoor activities that newcomers can dive into. You can climb the flat irons, you can go skiing or snowboarding, mountain biking, hiking, backpacking, camping, even longboarders <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_colorado_at_boulder/Reviews/22881/ " target="_hplink">have many challenging hills to bomb here</a>," says Andrew, a junior. If the town and surrounding areas isn't enough to pique your interest, students also rave about the campus itself. According to Bonnie, a sociology major, "The best thing about Boulder is the beautiful campus. <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_colorado_at_boulder/Reviews/4349 " target="_hplink">It is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country</a>."
University of Oregon
"Eugene is the <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_oregon/reviews/22269/ " target="_hplink">epitome of a college town</a>," says one senior. Oregon is home to some of the country's most beautiful scenery, both coastal and in the mountains. Outdoor enthusiasts will find endless activities, and those who prefer the occasional urban indulgence will get their fill in Eugene. Katie, a sophomore shares her love for the school: "The <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_oregon/ " target="_hplink">UO</a> is the best campus I've ever seen. It's a perfect college town, has enough people in attendance to get lost if you want and not too many to remain that way forever. There's enormous school pride, and the vibe on campus is a positive one. <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_oregon/reviews/22247/" target="_hplink">I don't want to go anywhere else</a>."
University of Texas-Austin
Austin has always been the black sheep of Texas cities, and we mean that in the best way possible. With the unofficial slogan, "Keep Austin weird," this is as ideal a setting for someone experiencing life out of the nest for the first time. "Austin is chock full of entertainment options for students to explore, and it might very well take 4+ years to get to know the city. 6th Street, SoCo, SoLa, Barton Springs, are just some of the fantastic locales and neighbors in the eclectic <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_texas_at_austin/reviews/24273/ " target="_hplink">city of Austin</a>," explains a UT business student. <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_texas_at_austin/ " target="_hplink">UT-Austin</a> is full of students who love to get out of the dorms and do something, whether it's exploring the city or getting out of dodge and enjoying nature. Jordan, a senior, has this to say: "Social life at UT is one of the most fun things about it. I love going downtown, eating at all of the restaurants in Austin, and <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_texas_at_austin/reviews/5038/ " target="_hplink">taking advantage of the outdoors</a>."
University of Vermont
In many ways, Burlington is an east coast version of Boulder. Both are ideal college towns with an exciting music scene and vibrant restaurant and nightlife culture. "The town of Burlington is probably the best part of the college. Burlington is really laid back, and the people who live there really embrace the fact that a bunch of college kids live there for part of the year. There are great bars, also the scenery is awesome. There's nothing better than getting to see the mountains in the distance while you're <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_vermont/reviews/10647/ " target="_hplink">on the way to class</a>," says Casey, a sophomore. Like CU-Boulder, <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_vermont/" target="_hplink">UVM</a> has one of the most breath-taking backdrops of any college, with Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains to the west and the Green Mountains to the East. Students at UVM are unanimous in their love of their school, the town, and the state of Vermont. "Burlington is the perfect college town, Lake Champlain, bars, outdoors stuff like skiing, hiking, hockey/ bball games. There's a lot of <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_vermont/reviews/24537/ " target="_hplink">Vermont pride here</a>."
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, like the school that calls this city home, is one of those places that can appeal to pretty much anybody. Karl, a freshman, says, "<a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_wisconsin-madison/" target="_hplink">Wisconsin</a> is a big school that makes the city of Madison what it is. There are lots of opportunities for people to do whatever they want and there will be some place on campus where everyone will be able to fit in. The city itself is fun and vibrant and there is always <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_wisconsin-madison/reviews/8479/ " target="_hplink">something to do if you look for it</a>." Sarah, a senior education student, expands on some of the perks of Madison, "The possibilities and opportunities are endless--great farmers market, lakes surrounding the area to canoe or kayak on, diverse group of people, job opportunities, great outdoor clubs, <a href="http://www.unigo.com/university_of_wisconsin-madison/reviews/8422/ " target="_hplink">strong faculties...</a>"