Technology has transformed the way learning happens, and consequently has changed how students choose the institutions they want to attend. An important tool that has aided this shift is the virtual college tour, which is an online experience that allows users to feel like they are on campus from anywhere in the world.

According to an April 2020 article published by Inside Higher Ed, nearly 1.4 million people viewed virtual college tours between March and April 2020—a 228 percent increase over the same period the prior year. Additionally, an analysis of over 650,000 prospective college students discovered that those who share their contact information while on a virtual tour are two times as likely to apply to that institution than those who call, email, or submit an inquiry form.[1] Further, data compiled through various collegiate surveys estimates that at least 66% of recent college applicants would like the opportunity to view virtual tours of the institutions they are interested in and for 30% of those respondents, virtual campus tours are a must-have in their decision-making process.

So, what does this mean for campus leaders? If your college or university is not utilizing a virtual tour, it may be time to think about adding one to your marketing mix. Below, we offer four benefits for you to consider:

More exposure, across the country and around the world. Likely the greatest benefit of creating a virtual college tour is the increase in exposure to your institution. Anyone who has access to the internet could be a potential visitor (and future student!). And, considering there are billions of people around the globe who are connected to the internet, the world is literally your stage.

While in-person open houses and events should continue to be mainstays in your outreach, adding a virtual tour can increase your audience tenfold. Typically, students who live nearby or those with the means to travel are more easily able to attend in-person open houses and campus tours, thus limiting your reach. With a virtual tour, you can bring a large part of your campus tour experience into the homes of students across America as well as internationally. In fact, data suggests that a good virtual tour piques students’ interest and results in a 30% increase in physical visits to campus, which in turn increases conversion rates of applications and enrollments. Additionally, potential students who are viewing a creative, immersive, easy-to-navigate virtual experience are more likely to share about it on their social channels and with their peer groups—meaning additional exposure for your institution that will help you boost applications and enrollments.

Connect with digital natives. Most traditional college applicants belong to Generation Z, which has grown up with technology in ways older students have not. From social media to entertainment, online shopping and more, Gen Z lives primarily in a virtual world. For these prospective students, a well-done virtual tour of your campus will automatically show your school’s digital relevance—meaning your institution will likely be higher on their list when the time comes to enroll.

Provide important information more efficiently and effectively. Prospective students can more easily and quickly catch on to what makes your school unique and special through a virtual tour, rather than by reading statistics, web pages, or written testimonials. Remember the stat we highlighted earlier about prospective students being twice as likely to convert if they share their information on a virtual tour? That data suggests that a creative, well-executed virtual college tour which includes videos of students participating in school activities, sharing why they chose your institution, or offering commentary about life on your campus can be much more effective at engaging prospective students and providing answers to their questions—and can ultimately lead to more enrollments.

Create a lasting impression. A virtual tour can be as simple as photos that allow prospective students to view a 360-degree image of various locations on your campus, or it can be an immersive experience that includes narrated video tours as well as links to facilities, campus resources, social media, etc. A virtual tour that includes various “gaming-like” aspects is a fun way to engage prospective students and leave them with a lasting impression about your institution. What’s more—that lasting impression will encourage word of mouth advertising which can result in increased applications and enrollments for your school (after all, when we find something we like, we tend to share it with others).

The takeaway. Virtual college tours are a worth the investment. From increasing exposure to demonstrating your relevance to more quickly answering questions and ultimately creating a lasting impression on your audience, a virtual tour can produce dividends in enrollments for years to come.

If you are interested in developing a virtual tour for your school, let’s connect.

[1] Inside Higher Ed – Virtual Tours