Virtual Tours: A Campus Visit without the Travel

As the costs of gas and traveling continue to go up many prospective students will not visit as many campuses as previous classes enjoyed. A simple to use and vibrant interactive map or virtual tour can sometimes be the deciding factor in your institution making the short list of travel destinations. A recent Associated Press article, 10 ways to control the cost of college visits, instructs prospective students to take virtual tours as the #1 step before actually visiting a college. The article also shares that “It’s not atypical for someone to spend $3,000 on travel, food, and lodging costs for such visits before selecting a school to attend”.

cloud-over-mountainIn viewing lots of interactive maps on college websites they all seem to be a little different, but very few come from the approach of the user experience first. With so many opinions and so many wonderful people, places, and hidden gems on your campus it can be very difficult to decide what to feature. Deciding what can have the biggest impact on someone wanting to visit your campus over another is a challenging, but necessary decision. Some important questions to consider include:

  • What buildings are important for visitors to see?
  • How much information is enough and what is information overload?
  • Does the tour take too long to load?
  • What audience is this tour four? Do we need different tours for various audiences?
  • Is my information clean and concise?
  • Does the photography compliment and add to the experience?
  • Do we want video? How much video is appropriate?

Spending the time upfront to seriously consider questions like this can make all the difference in the end if the experience you are presenting is being effective and converting to visits scheduled. Sometimes this online campus experience is the only chance that you will get and making it count is important.

In a recent article in University Business, A Virtual Visit Welcome, Ron Reis a co-founder of YOUniversity goes as far as saying that the tour is “singlehandedly the most important element” of a college website. The article goes on really describing the importance of an interactive tour element of each college website while reminding of the expectations of the user and limits of what should be done. A great example that I solidly stand behind is shorter and more authentic videos. A visitor doesn’t want a scripted presentation that doesn’t feel authentic and they definitely will not have the patience for an online video that is five minutes or longer.

I would highly recommend reading both of these articles mentioned to gain some additional insight from the prospective student and the recruitment angles about what goes into the interest end but also the potential costs and development that creating a stand out virtual tour. A rough estimate given in the University Business article is upwards of $10,000, but what are you really paying all this for and is it more than you need by attempting to do too much? Really thinking about those decisions and choosing a good product is very important especially when you’re considering spending five figures on a piece of your website.

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One comment

  • Colby Birklid August 2, 2010  

    I wanted to say that it¡¯s nice to know that someone else also mentioned this as I had trouble finding the same info elsewhere. This was the first place that told me the answer. Thanks.