If you are committed to getting a graduate education, you have likely already spent many hours researching universities, following rankings, and comparing programmes. But for some of you, the final decision to attend a particular university will ultimately be an emotional one – like love at first sight.
Often, this feeling comes during a campus tour. What happens when visiting universities is not possible? Currently, the major barrier is the Covid-19 pandemic, but even in better times there can be plenty of other obstacles. Here are some options that can immerse you in university life any time.
Getting a feel for a school when the campus tour is out of reach
Travel of any kind is not advisable at the moment, and that is unlikely to change over the summer. Also, having shifted to teaching online, many campuses are closed until the autumn. That could be a problem for prospective students trying to choose where to apply and whether to attend a programme they have been admitted to.
"Nothing will compare to actually being on campus and speaking face-to-face with current students", according to Xander Christou, a prospective university student from Austin, Texas (US), quoted by National Public Radio (NPR). "Online, the colleges are just names and logos", he said.
"Online, the colleges are just names and logos."
Looking at a web page cannot give you a feel for what it is like to spend one or a few years at a particular school. But it is important to know that you have options. If you are unable to travel for any reason, you can still get a realistic idea of student life. You can attend a virtual tour, speak to current students, and join live events.
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Look for these alternatives to the campus tour
Many universities are increasing their online presence and finding new, creative ways to reach prospective students. This is great news, as it can expand access to students who may be unable to travel due to financial or other constraints. Once you have your shortlist of favourite schools, here are the resources to look for.
1. Check social media.
Universities are posting more on social media. Many are also introducing new kinds of social media treats, such as live events, according to a survey of university representatives. You may be able to join a guided tour on a platform such as Facebook Live.
The University of Virginia (US) is using another platform, TikTok, to connect with prospective applicants. There, students share funny, personal videos about their life on campus. You can see them running and dancing across the grounds or dressing up for a (virtual) party.
What are your favourite universities – and their students – doing on social media? Do a bit of research, and you may be surprised.
2. Connect with current students.
No one can give you better answers to your questions about campus life than your future classmates. You may be able to talk to students via dedicated social media groups, or during a webinar for applicants, which some schools are offering.
If no option to connect with current students is available upfront, you should not hesitate to ask for this. You can do so during a one-to-one online meeting with school representatives. Most reps would be happy to connect you with someone who can introduce you to the campus culture. A request like this shows that you are seriously considering the school and that you want to make a responsible, informed decision – both are things that school reps appreciate.
3. Go on a campus tour – a virtual one.
Finally, to be able to imagine yourself on the school’s campus, check if the schools you are interested in are offering virtual tours. A virtual tour may include aerial videos of the grounds and 360-degree shots that you can navigate yourself. This creates the feeling that you are standing right there! Another option is virtual reality tours, which require a VR headset.
Some schools were already offering these experiences before the Covid-19 pandemic; many are now updating their tours or creating new ones. Ask your admissions representative or reach out to the school directly to see what is available. To get a taste, you can try out the virtual tours of IE University (Spain), which are an excellent example.
Chatting with current students, joining a live event, and seeing the campus – even virtually – can give you a sense of what going to school in a particular place will be like. With these new options, the schools are no longer “just names and logos”: you may well get that special feeling that a certain programme is right for you.
By attending an Access Masters event, every participant enters a draw for a chance to win a free visit to the university of their choice at the end of the Tour. The campus visit is an invaluable opportunity to experience student life in a particular school and put yourself in the shoes of a Masters student.