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Getting closer to campus: Virtual reality college tours

The online college tour can be a very important experience, influencing what might be the first critical decision a young adult makes. Virtual tours of colleges and universities have been around since the beginning of the Web. They were later enriched as multimedia experiences. The game has changed.

The new tours are significantly more immersive, revealing and attractive, incorporating 360° degree images, interactive maps and virtual reality. The goal is to offer prospective students the feeling of really being there.

While nothing can replace the feeling of really being on campus–interacting with students, eating in the student union, sitting on the quad, engaging in the action live–few students (or parents) can afford to travel across states, across the country, or perhaps, to another country to visit the schools of their dreams. New cutting-edge virtual visits could be one way to cull down the list and decide which campuses to visit in person.

Virtual reality tours, many of which leverage students’ mobile devices, may fill the gap and function as a first step on campus or a supplement to an on-site visit.  The tours take you to important places on campus, sometimes allowing for choose-your-own-adventure options connected to specific majors, or cultural and athletic interests, beyond the time constraints of the official tour. For international students, they may be an important opportunity to visit a school before making a global leap of faith. For students who have already made a commitment, virtual dormitory tours can aid significantly with housing decisions.

Universities currently use virtual reality tours as outreach tools. The tours make use of Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard and several other emerging VR platforms. Tours often include a friendly student ambassador/avatar who joins you in audio or video. They invite you to walk through important buildings, landmarks, open spaces, housing options, libraries, as well as nearby towns and cities. Students who later choose to visit campuses in person will be better informed about the spaces and may be more interested in learning about the programs. visiting specific spaces.

This coming year, you’ll likely see college reps bringing headsets along on their high school visits, but you might want to initiate some of the fun yourself in collaboration with your Guidance Department friends and to begin curating your own libraries of virtual reality tours and link to the major portals.

What does it look like?

The Savannah School of Art and Design is a beautiful example of the possibilities. Even without the virtual reality equipment you can tour with a friendly guide and experience the 360 degree views. (Though they make me a bit dizzy.) Here’s what it looks like when students use Cardboard to virtually tour the Atlanta, Savannah, Lacoste, France and Hong Kong campuses using tours built on the YouVisit platform–available at the App Store and Google Play.  (SCAD now sends Google Cardboard headsets to prospective students.)

Accessible without a headset, the University of Sydney offers a 360° interactive virtual tour.

How can you find these tours and how might you plan to use these with your students?

You can certainly find tours on the websites of the universities and you can search for them using the portals of those who have developed the tours.

  • YouVisit now offers more than 1000 college tours as both browser-based 360° experiences and virtual experiences, using an Oculus Rift headset and a mobile browser.
  • Campustours users reality viewers like Google Cardboard to share its video tours, photorealistic interactive campus maps and GPS-ready mobile walking tours.
  • eCampusTours offers more 360° x 360° tours for more than 1,300 colleges
Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Hi Joyce, Great article! YOUniversityTV will be filming the first-ever, third-party 360° video tour at a college next month at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. This is not the still pictures that you normally see in virtual reality on campus. This is new video technology that will change the way colleges are viewed. Read more here:

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