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Local colleges say virtual touring options are beneficial and likely here to stay

Even post-pandemic, some local schools say they will keep virtual options to accommodate students and their families.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Searching for a college used to mean attending college fairs, and then eventually traveling to the ones you liked a campus tour. For many students deciding where to go this year, that hasn't been an option, as campuses cut back on in-person recruiting experiences due to the pandemic. With the deadline for most schools coming up May 1st, how do students and their parents commit to a college they may have never seen in person, or only limited parts of it? 

2 On Your Side spoke admissions counselors with four local colleges, all who have adopted virtual tour models in the last year. While a virtual tour may sound underwhelming, at St. Bonaventure in Olean, they found the online sessions were often a hook that led to students booking a visit for a one-on-one tour, then keeping in touch afterwards. 

"This has provided us an easy way to stay in touch with people," Assistant Director of Admissions Dean Whitcomb said. "I've had folks go home from visits here on campus and want to set up another Zoom two nights later to go over financial aid, where we can look at the same screen and kind of talk numbers. It's created a world of opportunities and instant information for families, unlike any other way we've ever had it before. It used to be, if you didn't look it up on the website, you wanted to call or be here in person to ask somebody. Well now, we can set up a Zoom on a moment's notice, and we're good to go."

At University at Buffalo, our new virtual world means they can easily tap into their alumni base to connect with prospective students and help them make decisions. Erin O'Brien, the School of Management's Chief Enrollment and Marketing Officer, says that would not have been feasible before the pandemic. 

"We can actually manufacture an intimate experience for our incoming students, because we now have the technology and the cultural acceptance to be able to do it," she said. "Those two things go hand in hand. The technology and the cultural acceptance. Two or three years ago, could you imagine being called by your college to talk to a freshman? Probably not. But now you're probably more receptive to that invitation because you're like 'oh yeah, it's a 15 minute Zoom call. I can handle this.'"

Back at St. Bonaventure, they saw applications increase by almost 10 percent this year, an all-time high. Now they're in the process of expanding their admissions department so they have enough staff to accommodate families through both the virtual and in-person recruiting avenues, when they become more available.