Colleges strengthen virtual presence

More campus tours are taking place online during social distancing.
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Grand Valley State University recently updated its website to include student-guided virtual tours. Courtesy GVSU University Communications

Touring college campuses and attending open houses usually are among the deciding factors in where students will choose to continue their educational journey. But just like graduations and proms, the pandemic has uprooted the natural progression of high schoolers and left them scrambling for alternatives.

Local colleges are adapting to the new normal with enhanced virtual reality tours.

Jodi Chycinski, associate vice president and director of admissions for Grand Valley State University, said virtual tours always have been available for anyone on the admissions website, but now they are being enhanced with new video footage.

“We will have a student talk through their campus tour experience,” she said. “We have students who give tours of campus so one of our students who has worked with us for a couple of years has (taken) a tour and will be moderating that. We are always adding new content. We are finding out what people want and adding that content for them and notifying our prospective students that it is available online.

“The current virtual tour is really self-directed. So, when you go to the site, you click on what you want to see on the virtual tour. It is a matter of going to the map and clicking around and seeing the information about the buildings. What we will have online (soon) is where we will be directing the tour. Much like we would do on a tour if you would show up in person, we have a route that we go on to facilities we want to show them. So that is what we are going to be emulating with this new tool we’ll be putting online.”

Chycinski said GVSU normally conducts campus tours every day with different prospective students, and also incorporates meeting with an admissions professional, which might be one-on-one or in a group setting to give more details about what it is like being a student at GVSU. Since that no longer is feasible, the school has created virtual appointments with an admissions professional and sometimes with faculty members.

Aquinas College also offers a virtual campus tour on its website. Damon Bouwkamp, director of admissions for Aquinas, said the college recently hosted its first virtual open house for students, parents and faculty members that focused on different areas of academics and even a couple of sessions on athletics.

In addition to student life, features also included the Aquinas Advantage Center and the Center for Diversity, Inclusion & Equity.

“This is primarily designed for the underclassmen who are really caught in this really odd spot, where a lot of these students would have started their college search right around the time when everyone was sent home,” he said. “There is a pretty large college fair circuit in the spring in Michigan, including a national college fair that takes place at the DeVos Place in Grand Rapids in April every year. That college fair at the DeVos Place would have had 150 different colleges from around the globe at their event. This is an opportunity for students to get more in-depth knowledge about Aquinas and have a chance to chat with faculty and staff and ask them questions.”

Bouwkamp said during an April open house the school normally would have between 100 and 150 prospective students on campus, and that’s in addition to countless personal visits that occur during traditional high school spring break.

“For a small school, that is a big number that we need to get back in touch with and hopefully have them experience Aquinas in some way,” he said.

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