Creating Great Virtual Tours

Two adults viewing a school playground on a computer

Getting prospective families on your campus right now is challenging, if not impossible. For many schools, COVID-19 safety protocols prevent visitors from touring your facilities and seeing your campus in-person.

But during this busy spring admissions season, your accepted, enrolled and prospective families need to see your wonderful classrooms, labs, studios, dorms, athletic facilities and more.

Open the doors with virtual tours.

Virtual tours, produced in-house or professionally, can give your visitors a sense of your campus and your school culture, if done thoughtfully.

There are numerous professional virtual tour companies that can produce a 360-degree tour for your school. Do a quick internet search (be sure to look at YouTube) for examples and get recommendations from the schools or colleges using a professional service. 

Don’t limit your visitors to only seeing the exteriors of your campus, though. Prospective families need to get inside your facilities. Intersperse your tour with pre-pandemic footage of how that space is typically used. Mine past videos of performances, students doing labs, sports events, campus traditions, etc. to pull viewers into the culture of your school and the vibrancy of your campus. 

Right now, families will understand if those facilities may look a little different (plexiglass partitions, desks spaced six feet apart). Be transparent and show how you are keeping your community safe for in-person learning.

Select the host with the most.

Yes, music, drone footage and graphics with the building’s title can be enough for a campus tour. But is it enough to truly engage prospective students and get them excited about the next step? The magic of an in-person tour is the tour guide. Picking the right host for your video makes all the difference.

Williams College’s recent virtual tour uses student tour guides to lead a campus tour, explaining not only what the buildings are but what happens in them. With past footage and the hosts’ presentation, it’s a fun, virtual take on an in-person tour.

Flint Hill School, which has had in-person learning since fall 2020, created virtual tours for each of its three divisions. Led by the division director, these tours stop in different classrooms to chat with teachers. The viewer is pulled  and sees how Flint Hill is safely teaching and learning. 

John Carroll High School in Maryland created its virtual tour last fall using interviews with various administrators, video of the campus and stills of pre-COVID student life to give viewers a sense of the community. Initially part of John Carroll’s immersive, fall Virtual Open House, the tour remains an important part of the school’s on-demand content. 

Last August, a public school in California, Warren High School, created a virtual tour for incoming students offering a fun, informative campus preview for their return to in-person learning. Narrated by an administrator, the video wove B-roll footage of the lively, pre-COVID student scene, great graphics and the guide’s personality to make incoming students feel excited about their new home.

Customize the virtual tours for impact.

At this point in the pandemic, prospective families have seen far too many similar virtual tours. Stand out with a less scripted/unscripted student-hosted tour that gives the viewer a true sense of your school. 

Embrace the odd facts like a favorite place on campus, favorite lunch, place you walk past the most times in a day, best book in the library, coolest project you have done in class, what you can’t wait to get back to when COVID is over. It’s what your student tour guides would talk about if they were leading a tour in person.

Such eclectic, genuine tours are grounded in emotion and joy. Be sure to use the lower-thirds (the titles on a video under the person speaking) to give name, year, the spot and what roles the tour guide has on campus.

Use authentic student voices to further distinguish your programs and facilities and to speak to the passions of your prospective and enrolled/accepted students. What about: 

  • The basketball captain giving a guided tour of the athletic facilities with past game footage, current footage of a masked practice and his or her own words about what they love about being on the team.
  • The drama devotee showcasing the theater, from the front of the house to the costume area, who also shares favorite roles, videos or stills from past performances.
  • The Robotics team member leading a tour of the Robotics lab or maker space, giving a demo of a robot and sharing what it means to be part of these Robotics competitions.

Try live and livestreaming tours.

In March 2021, Oak Knoll School of the Holy Child hosted an admissions event for its primary program over Facebook Live to combat Zoom fatigue and to reach families while the school’s campus was closed during the pandemic. Titled “the Pre-K to Grade 2 Peek-a-Boo,” the school livestreamed the lower school division head popping in and out of classrooms in real time. 

“Our goal was to build trust with prospective families by being transparent about our program,” says Meghan Hodgin, Oak Knoll’s director of marketing and communications. “This was not only great for new applicants but also wonderful for retention, with a side benefit of giving our current parents – who are unable to come to campus while we are closed to visitors – an opportunity to see their child live in class.” 

Many schools are livestreaming sports. School athletics can play a big part in recruiting, and having prospective athletes see your student teams playing goes a long way in establishing school affinity and spirit. Consider a “chalk talk” with a coach before a game and then a chance to watch the game live, perhaps in a watch party with other prospective athletes. 

Boston University has been offering live, guided virtual tours since the 2020 fall semester with their top tour guides. Using iPads and Zoom webinars, tour guides are able to replicate tour routes as they navigate the urban campus and go from building to building. In fact, due to the nature of the remote tour, they have been able to show more of the campus than they previously had been due to large tour group sizes. With one student on camera showing the campus and sharing their student perspective, another student sits behind the scenes and answers the prospective student’s questions in the webinar’s Q&A feature. Check out Boston University’s virtual options.

Consider after hours.

If it’s permissible in your region and once your students and faculty have gone home for the day, could you offer a masked, socially distant tour? Detroit Country Day School researched the possibility and has been offering this option, registration required, since fall 2020.

If you allow visitors on campus after hours, consider posting large QR codes on the doors of the buildings that link to a video of the building’s interior and what happens there. These videos that could also be linked on your website campus map. 

Elementary and lower schools might consider a drive by on campus to pick up supplies for a fun craft/activity, which is completed alongside a faculty member and the family at a Zoom session. Accepted or prospective families get to see campus (though from the car) and meet other families and teachers online in a fun, shared hands-on activity. 

Take your admissions to the next level.

Need more ideas for creating an amazing virtual and in-person admissions program? Read our latest eBook, “Reimagining Admissions: Lessons Learned from the Pandemic.” 

Check out our expert’s take on How to Create Experiential Microsites for Virtual Admission Events.

Looking for ways to manage yield events during COVID-19? We have you covered.

Kalix can help with all your school’s marketing needs. Contact us. 


President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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