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Articles / Campus Life / Pre-Sod College Visits

Aug. 16, 2016

Pre-Sod College Visits

I've been fascinated by the Rio Olympics this past week. Other than the polluted water, green-tinted swimming pools, armed robberies, and fatal taxi deaths for competitors, I've found a lot to like.

I was watching track and field competition the other day. It seemed as though each event had a huge number of aspirants vying for the finals. So, there were seemingly endless rounds of preliminary races. They're called “heats," an appropriate term, considering the Rio weather. All these qualification rounds got me to thinking about the college search process.


I probably don't have to remind you of my often-cited phrase concerning college search and selection: “You've got to trod the sod!" (I'm wondering if I should trademark that slogan.)

What this means, of course, is that before you make any final decisions about whether or not to attend a college, you must visit and physically walk around campus. In other words, you must trod the sod. That may seem like extreme common sense to most of you, but every year high school seniors enroll at colleges they've never seen in person. That many times results in what is known as a mismatch (or, more directly, a bad decision).

So what does this have to do with the Olympics? Good question.

Well, as I watched all the preliminary track heats that day, I made the connection between heats and the final. I realized that there is a kind of preliminary heat available for college searchers, a pre-screening tool that allows the searcher to see if a school can qualify for the finals … an actual physical visit.

This tool is the ubiquitous “virtual" campus tour, perhaps a tool that you have overlooked in your zeal to actually trod the sod. To take a virtual tour, all you have to do is enter a school's name into your favorite search engine and follow it with the words “virtual tour." This should immediately take you to pictures and videos that display all the best of any college.

Therein lies a caution. A virtual tour can never outperform a sod visit for a reality check. A virtual tour will never show you trashed post-party bathrooms, stinking dumpsters filled to overflowing with empty (and broken) beer bottles (or worse), and ancient buildings that may have a brick or two missing around a rotting window sill.

Once you accept this caveat, you can enter your all your virtual tours in a preliminary heat of sorts to see which, if any, will qualify for the finals — your sod-trodding visit. That's why I refer to virtual tours as pre-sod visits.

Where's a good place to go shopping for these virtual tours?Obviously, a school's Web site would be the prime candidate. However, there is a consolidated resource available: eCampusTours.com — “featuring 360° x 360° tours of over 1,300 colleges." That's impressive.

Just for kicks, I entered “Lycoming College" into the search box at the top of the eCampuTours home page. Lycoming (or “Lyco," as it's known affectionately) is a small liberal arts school in Central Pennsylvania. It was where I spent my freshman year, before taking a three-year break for military service. I've expounded on that at painful length in previous posts here.

Anyway, what came up was a large selection of 360-degree images of Lycoming buildings and campus highlights. Just rotate your cursor and get the whole spacial perspective. That's something that actual videos sometimes fail to deliver.

Here's the list of images you can explore:

– Main Quad

– Williams Hall

– Wertz Student Center / Quad

– Rich Hall and John W. Long Hall

– Heim and Academic Building Walk-way

– Martha B. Clarke Chapel

– Lamade Gymnasium and Fine Arts Building

– Asbury Hall and Long Hall

– Rock Garden on the Quad

I found the exploratory experience quite enjoyable. I think you will too. With 1,300 schools in their inventory, it's highly likely that you'll be able to find most of the schools you're considering. If they don't have one, then you can fall back on the school's Web site.

After my eCampus visit to Lycoming, I searched for other Lyco videos and found this one, not a 360-degrees production but a “normal" video that was quite upbeat:

Jonah's Not So Official Lycoming College Tour

This video resides on the Lycoming College YouTube channel. I took the time to watch it and found that “Jonah" is quite a talented thespian. His delivery and energy are attractive and the school looks entirely different than when I went there. Fifty years can make quite a difference.

The description of Jonah's presentation simply states, “Jonah guides you through some Lycoming College campus highlights." He gets a lot of positive feedback in the comments from viewers:

– We've been checking out tons of colleges for my son. Reviews, websites… and yes… YouTube! This is by far the best video we've come across and has definitely caught our attention. I see a drive north (from MD) on the horizon! GREAT JOB!

– my daughter goes to Lyco and this is a great representation of the school.

– I'd go to Lyco!

That last comment is music to admissions officials' ears! Ergo, the purpose of tour videos that have an effective spokesperson.

If you combine a school's Jonah-type videos (if the school offers one) with the eCampus 360-degree images, you may be able to get the most comprehensive look at your candidate schools before visiting them, or before deciding whether or not to pass them into the Gold Medal round!

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Check College Confidential for all of my college-related articles.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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