Many Students Now Opting for Virtual College Campus Visits

In person campus visits are now possible again after the pandemic, but students no longer hold them in high regard with many option for virtual tours instead.

In fact, virtual visits have increased as higher ed institutions leverage digital tools to provide prospective students with an immersive experience of campus life. For instance, 82% percent of high school sophomores and juniors claim they intend to visit colleges before they apply, but only 48% of seniors actually do, according to research reports.

Virtual visits offer numerous advantages, including enhanced accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and convenience. However, they may lack the personal touch and experiential depth of in-person visits. Institutions are working to enrich their virtual offerings and bridge this gap.

In 2023, only 36% of college-bound students said that open houses and campus tours were important in choosing which schools to apply to—compared to 63% in 2019. Most students opt for a self-guided walking tour when visiting campuses, although nearly half of seniors went to open houses, information sessions, and student events.

The purpose of campus visits

College-bound students of all class years indicate a preference for on-campus visits. But a dive into the data reveals that students who visit campuses in person are looking for insights into the student experience, campus appearance, location, facilities, and community fit. However the are open to receiving information about admissions, financial aid, academics, activities and interacting with faculty in a virtual format.

While students are open to gathering facts through institution websites, social media, and online college comparison sites before they apply, it is not a substitute for experiencing the campus atmosphere in person. Institutions are pioneering innovative ways to facilitate virtual interactions, such as one-on-one meetings and live chat sessions to foster meaningful connections.

Making the decision

Survey results suggest virtual visits will continue to play a major role in the college decision process. However, in-person visits are expected to regain popularity as students seek a more immersive and comprehensive experience. In fact, the research suggests that the vast majority of seniors (80%) eventually visit at least one college in person before making their choice.

Unofficial campus visits allow students to explore campuses following their own interests, while traditional visits provide plenty of general information, but are usually generic.

Recommendations to reimagine campus visits

Researchers suggested two strategies for institutions to consider as they enhance the experience of the students they are attempting to recruit:

  • Personalize the campus experience by gathering information on students’ preferences through registration form or email. Institutions can then group visiting students by similar interests for a more meaningful experience.
  • Share factual information before the visit through fact sheets or FAQs on the college website. This allows tour guides to focus on providing a great experience but also prepares them to answer any questions.