April 27, 2023
Rethinking the College Virtual Visit
For many prospective students, visiting a college or university campus in person is simply not possible. Whether due to distance, financial constraints, or, in more recent years, pandemic-related restrictions, students have to get to know the college or university another way through a college virtual visit.
This is where your website comes in: As a virtual representation of your campus, it can be just as impactful as an in-person visit. In fact, in some cases, your website might be the only visit some prospects have. That’s why it’s crucial to make sure your website is doing its job.
Traditional college visits provide an opportunity for prospective students to get a first-hand look at a college campus, explore its facilities, ask questions, and get a sense of its overall culture and community. College virtual visits with tools such as YouVisit or video-led tours are a great alternative to a walking tour and give students a feel for campus; but in order to give the full value of an in-person visit, the rest of the website has to do more heavy lifting.
Here are a few updates that you can make to your website to support students as they explore your college or university virtually:
1. Provide guided paths for students.
With different student types from undergraduate to graduate, transfer students to adult learners, and in-state applicants to international prospects, it is important to offer a tailored experience similar to what a prospective student would experience when coming to campus. This can be achieved through guided navigation or dedicated persona pages that include information specifically relevant to each student type. These simple content and navigation updates provide clear pathways and next steps for different visitors while also adding a level of personalization.
2. Showcase your academic offerings.
Choosing a major is a significant decision for incoming students who are deciding where they want to attend college. It can be overwhelming to navigate the many academic disciplines, majors, and career paths available to them. On campus, prospective students may be able to sit down and discuss their interests, abilities, and goals; but what’s to say that your website can’t offer a similar experience?
Organizing your school’s academic offerings in a way that is exploratory and focused on how students communicate their likes and dislikes offers a more interactive and personal approach to digitally choosing a major. On program pages, including comprehensive and accessible information as well as highlighting the unique features and benefits of each major can give students what they need to take the next step. Offering that “next step” on the same page by including buttons instructing the user to apply or request information reduces guesswork and keeps the student engaged with their college virtual visit.
3. Go beyond the classroom.
Although academics are the cornerstone of any college experience, there are so many other factors that may have just as much or more of an impact on the college selection process.
In-person, students have the ability to view facilities, get a feel for campus layout, preview living and dining quarters, learn about clubs and activities, and when applicable visit the surrounding areas or nearby cities. It is important to showcase these areas on the website using rich media, easy-to-find information, and personal experiences.
4. Answer common questions.
Another great perk of an in-person college visit is the ability to ask questions and quickly get the answers. But as college tour guides and admissions counselors will tell you, though some questions can get overly granular, they are answering the same or similar questions time and time again. Use this to your advantage by creating a comprehensive FAQ bank and adding it to your website.
Take it one step further by using search and filters to categorize who the questions are targeted towards or what the topics are. Keep it up to date and make it simple to locate so users can find answers to their questions within a few clicks — no raising hands and waiting to be called on required.
5. Share your institution’s personality.
Finally, we all know that the right tour guide can make all the difference when it comes to campus visits. So why not bring that same mentality to your institution’s website?
We don’t mean to say fill every page with images, brand colors, logos, and testimonials; there is a balance between getting to the point and telling the story after all, so find what is right for each page.
For example, your homepage is a great place to introduce your brand and let students get to know the school’s energy; and the student life page could be improved with a “Day in the Life” section. But when it gets down to the details, don’t clutter the tuition information with social media feeds and student stories. Keep the information at the front, but don’t be scared to show off your personality and attract your right-fit students.
Regardless of whether or not an in-person visit is possible, your website is often the first interaction a prospective student has with your institution. It’s the digital front door to your campus, the program showcase, and the resource hub all rolled into one. A well-designed website can help make a positive first impression and encourage prospects to learn more about your institution.
Whether serving as the first stop on a journey to campus or the only visit prior to move-in day, a few simple updates can create a well-rounded digital experience that far surpasses the standalone college virtual visit.