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6/14/2013
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YouVisit: Virtual College Tours Get Real

Unlike other sites with "virtual campus tours" that piece together bits of video and resource links, YouVisit offers virtual walking tours with speaking guides.

I can track my entire college application process in my Internet history. It seems as though I spent my senior year of high school clicking through the Common App, browsing degree programs, writing essays and preparing for the SAT. I thought it would be impossible to bring more of the college preparation online. I was wrong.

Back in 2008, I couldn't tour schools on the Internet. Today's applicants can.

Websites such as CampusTours and eCampusTours attempt to bring campus visits online with videos, panoramic images and information on degree programs, athletics, student life, and tuition payment. Site users can access links to college admissions pages and applications. While these sites are useful, they don't replicate the campus tour experience. They simply connect users to resources on other websites.

So you want a full tour? Stop by YouVisit, the newest tool for college applicants.

[ Tweet defense: When Colleges Use Twitter As Help Desk.]

Unlike its predecessors, YouVisit offers virtual guided walking tours with speaking guides. Visitors can explore more than 400 colleges and universities in the United States, Europe, Africa and Latin America. Each tour offers panoramic views of the insides of buildings such as libraries, laboratories and student centers. "It's the next best thing to being there in person," said co-founder and CEO Abi Mandelbaum.

Inspiration for YouVisit struck international students Mandelbaum, Endri Tolka and Taher Baderkhan during their time at Brandeis University. "Even a few years after having graduated, we wanted to know how international students could get a better feel for studying in the U.S." said Mandelbaum, noting that they had difficulty getting a thorough look at Brandeis before they arrived. The trio set out to create a website that would help students and their families explore college campuses without breaking the bank.

YouVisit sets itself apart with virtual guided walking tours, which are created in partnerships with participating schools. "Most virtual tours you see are just videos and pictures, and that doesn't give prospective students a good sense of what a campus is about," Mandelbaum said. "With a walking tour, students can see what it would be like to live and study on that campus." Site users click through campus pathways and explore buildings and courtyards while learning about what each school has to offer. To capture the individuality of each institution, YouVisit staff walks through the campuses of participating schools.

To further appeal to teens, YouVisit expanded to include a mobile app with GPS and audio capabilities. Users can tour schools on mobile devices or use the app to find campus hotspots and view the insides of closed buildings during in-person visits. The app is useful for mobile-obsessed teens and families who are unable to accommodate scheduled on-campus tour times.

The site has been a boon to universities trying to attract out-of-state and abroad students. International applicants and their families can view schools online and take guided tours in any of eight available languages. Institutions benefit from larger applicant pools and up to 30% more in-person visits.

Participating schools also receive access to analytics reports that help with in-person tours and marketing initiatives. Reports include the number of virtual visitors, where they are located and which places on campus are most popular during visits. "For example, if most people are looking at dormitories during tours, schools will address this in future emails and marketing campaigns," explained Mandelbaum.

YouVisit
A YouVisit tour of Yale University

YouVisit has come a long way since its founding, but what are its plans for the future? "Right now, our priority is to create a virtual guided walking tour for every college and university," Mandelbaum said. "No matter what school a student is considering, we want to help."

After exploring a few schools via YouVisit, I immediately wished the site had existed during my college application process. Its technology allows a realistic view of each campus, and I definitely could have used it to expand my geographical range of schools.

Share your thoughts on YouVisit or on virtual tours in general. Do you think they provide a good first-hand look at a university? Are there any issues that should be addressed?

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