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7 principles behind influential virtual tours

How schools are creating amazing virtual tours
5 min read

As virtual open houses, interactive online fairs, and Zoom webinars have rapidly become new norms in student recruitment, higher ed marketing teams are relying more than ever on virtual tours. 

When built right, virtual tours deliver in these three areas: 

  • Use visual storytelling to educate prospective students about academics, facilities, and resources available inside schools
  • Generate leads, awareness of online events, and foster prospect inquiries
  • Allow for greater reach into secondary and global markets

The data shows that they're in demand with prospective students. The University of Ottawa's Recruitment and Admissions team polled over 1,000 incoming first-year students about which we-based resources they would visit in today's social restrictions. Over 75% of respondents indicated that they 'Agree/Strongly Agree' with using virtual tours, ranking this tool second on a list of many different options.

In this post you’ll learn about the 7 principles schools are applying to create engaging virtual experiences. Learn from them and jumpstart your journey to building an effective and engaging virtual tour experience!

Sheridan's Trafalgar Campus walkway.

Build out an impressive virtual walking tour for each campus location

In-person open houses and campus tours have always been a significant part of influencing enrolment. Since these events are paused or limited due to the pandemic, the question becomes: how do you make virtual tours as effective as their in-person counterparts? 

University of Ottawa’s Student Ambassadors and Recruitment team built a series of walking tours that follow the path Student Ambassadors would take on-site. The tours are written and storyboarded by students for students, which creates a virtual experience that is equally as personable as their on-campus tours. See what sets uOttawa and their students apart from the rest.

You can enhance the virtual walking tour experience even further with an audio guided tour. Audio narration allows prospects to freely explore 360 panoramas and visual media, while reducing reading fatigue and enhancing accessibility. See Canadore College’s ICAMP virtual tour here. Audio can be recorded in a student’s or faculty's voice, whichever would is the best fit for your tour.

Expand the experience with secondary tours focused on areas of study and student amenities

We surveyed post-secondary students about the things they wish they knew earlier when choosing a school. A common theme was around receiving more accurate information about residence, resources offered to first-year students, places to eat on campus and study spaces.

Conestoga College helped prospective students easily find content that match their interests by creating Areas of Study tours for the programs they offer. They customized the All Tab into Areas of Study, Campuses and Other (food, residence, study spaces) to allow students to further personalize their journey through the content.

Similarly, Algonquin College created Areas of Interests tours, and structured their All Tab to include Areas of Interest, Campuses, and Student Amenities to highlight the resources offered to students. Algonquin staff also found it easy to send students to specific tours based on their interests.

Students in Conestoga's Hospitality & Culinary Arts program.

Incorporate nearby highlights from the surrounding area

Your school might be a destination campus with a high percentage of out-of-area students. This is where profiling surrounding activities and highlights can come in handy. 

Cape Breton University showcased life at their school using academic life, campus life, and island life tours. The Cape Breton Island tour is a guide through the beautiful nature walks, beaches, and forests only a few kilometers away from campus. Cape Breton is stunning!

Carleton University’s Explore Ottawa tour offers a glimpse at Ottawa's amazing recreational destinations. Students can view sights around the city and plan excursions in their off-hours, including ByWard Market, The Glebe, and more!

ByWard Market, one of Canada’s oldest and largest public markets.

Use well placed hotspots within scenes to show supporting services

Student services might not be a key decision factor, but they are extremely helpful for students to discover and help reinforce the campus community and support.

Algonquin College uses a variety of hotspots to highlight more details in their spaces. At their Ottawa Campus Student Commons, they show a variety of clubs and associations for students who want to get involved and meet new people.

Use storytelling

Every school has powerful student stories to share.

Staging 360° scenes makes them feel populated and live. Visitors can see how spaces are being used by current students and imagine themselves inside. Sheridan College’s Animation, Arts & Design studios and classrooms tour places you right in the middle of a pottery lecture, or in a glass blowing studio with 900°F ovens blasting...you can almost feel the heat.

Another creative approach to storytelling is having current students share interesting historical info, fun facts and personal stories along the virtual tour. Crescent School used videos of student guides leading tours for the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools. The excitement of Crescent School students sharing their personal stories is genuine and relatable for future students and parents.

Sheridan College student manipulating glass in a 900°F oven.

Use a mix of visual content

Panoramic images are great for immersing potential students in a space, but it might not always be a fit for telling your story.

Crescent School uses galleries to help provide additional visuals and video content for school plays, productions, events, talks, student works, and competitions.

Durham College uses galleries to give full 360° video tours of their campuses. You follow a guide as he expertly shows you around the college, creating a more immersive and interactive experience.

Seneca College elevates the vantage point on their campus views with drone photography of their exterior buildings, giving students a greater sense of the scale of their campuses. This can also help students with wayfinding in their first week of school.

Aerial view of Seneca's Newnham Campus.

Adapt tours for a global audience

Translating your content can make your school more accessible and appealing to audiences around the world. Many schools translate their sites into multi-languages, and see stronger engagement from international visitors. Taking it a step further, adding your videos into a streaming service like v.qq (Tencent) will allow your video content to be viewable in China.

Today, your virtual tour might be the first interaction a prospective student has with your institution, or the final resource they consult before marking an enrollment decision. With these principles in mind, higher education recruitment and marketing teams are increasing the impact and usage of virtual tours, and delivering greater value for future students.