Are you an international education aspirant looking to study in the top global universities? How would you like it if you get to see the library, the campus, the gardens, the courtyard and the Chapel at the University of Oxford from the comfort of your home? How about visiting the first-year dormitories, the first brick building, the Phillips Brookes House or the Science Center at Harvard College?
More than two years after COVID-19 first struck the world, it is still challenging for universities and their admissions offices to travel to different countries to boost their reach in terms of recruiting students. It has become all the more necessary for universities worldwide to adopt virtual ways to reach international students.
As universities cater to the queries from international students, they are stressing more on virtual events. Open houses, and admission fairs which involve virtual reality experiences, webinars, videos, and more… these events are helping prospective international students who are unable to visit campuses or access other facilities in person. Students are now getting to explore an array of technology-driven virtual tours from universities and colleges.
- Around 35% of the students surveyed globally in 2020 by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) said that virtual tours play a key role while deciding a college or course overseas
- In countries like the UK and the US, universities conduct virtual events and tours to attract prospective international students
- Students are now getting to explore an array of technology-driven virtual tours from universities and colleges.
Why Online Engagement With Students Matters
Recent research also indicates that virtual campus tours and online events create a huge impact on an aspirant’s mind when choosing a course or university abroad. An International Students Survey in 2020 by Quacquarelli Symonds, which ranks universities globally, reveals the modes of communications that are influential in helping students choose a university abroad, especially post-pandemic.
As many as 35% of the students surveyed said that virtual tours play a key role in this. Around 33% said live online chats with the university staff helps them decide on a program or institution. Nearly 24% said that photos or video stories on platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram help them decide, while 22% favoured live sessions and chats on Facebook and Instagram. More than 78,500 respondents from 193 territories participated in the survey.
While the virtual modes of communication are important there is one most important factor which appeals to students. “While choosing a country, the key aspect is whether it is welcoming to international students. In an increasingly competitive global education market, it is vital that institutions understand these issues and inform their international recruitment strategies accordingly,” says the report.
In countries like the UK and the US, universities are very forthcoming when it comes to engaging with their potential students overseas through virtual means.
According to the UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, most universities in the country conduct virtual tours and events on a regular basis but each university will be slightly different in how they produce their virtual tours and open days which allow aspirants to research their options, interact with universities, colleges and employers, and get their questions answered.
“During the peak of the pandemic, there were many curbs on movements within the UK from March 2020. Therefore, virtual tours would have been the only option available at certain times. Different geographical regions had different restrictions at different times, and most were lifted around July 2021. Virtual tours were an invaluable tool to engage with students at this time who wanted to apply to higher education institutions in the UK,” said a spokesperson from the Admissions Service.
The United States-India Education Foundation also conducts virtual tours with several accredited US higher education institutions as participants. One of the events it organised was the EducationUSA South Asia Fall Virtual Tour 2020 which provided students from South-East Asia to interact with US university representatives via the undergraduate and graduate virtual fairs. Students were allowed to use text-based chat and audio/video chat, connect with alumni and more.
From The Students’ Perspective
Students usually attend virtual tours and open house sessions having checked a university’s website and social media handles. They would also be familiar with the university’s key offerings- its flagship courses, facilities, academic strengths, among other aspects.
For universities, these virtual tours and events serve as opportunities to learn about and address other issues, challenges or apprehensions they might face. They can also encourage students to connect with successful alumni and get them to know about other aspects of campus life such as extra-curriculars, community-building and living in a foreign country. They are usually looking for information beyond the Internet.
Research also suggests that these virtual tours do give students an added advantage. Besides saving money and time on travel, it allows students to explore different aspects of university life from the comfort of their homes, through technology-driven tours. Platforms which help universities host these virtual tours are also gaining popularity. These include YouVisit, Ivent and CollegeWeek Live, to name a few.