UNITY — Embarking on a trip to tour a college campus is, for the majority of high school students nearing graduation, is a ritual. This is when juniors and seniors attempt to envision spending four years of their life on the college’s campus.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, has thrown a wrench in the process, as in-person campus visits have been scrapped. at many Maine higher education institutions, campus tours were among the first events to be scratched, even before classes were shifted to remote instruction.
A closed campus has not prevented a small group of ambassadors at Waldo County’s Unity College, in Unity, from spotlighting the advantages of the campus to prospective students via virtual tours.
In fact, Unity College was already prepared to offer tours to prospective students who are not able to physically step foot on campus before the pandemic.
The environmentally-focused college has been hosting personalized virtual tours since last year to students who live far away from Unity and are unable to physically tour the campus ahead of enrollment, according to Joel Crabtree, Associate Director of Media Relations at Unity College.
“We found that students wanted to get a more in-depth look at our campus, specifically the residence halls and facilities, as well as the opportunity to interact with people on campus, including staff, faculty, and current students,” said Crabtree.
Admission representatives from Unity College had completed personalized virtual tours with 15 students, as of April 22, and had another 21 on the schedule, with new requests fielded each day.
Unity has five full-time staff members focused on the personalized virtual tours, including three who are first-year flagship admissions counselors, a transfer counselor and the Welcome Center manager.
“More often than not, students receive personalized tours from their assigned counselor, who they’ve interacted with previously,” said Crabtree. “Every counselor has the option to come in if there’s a student who they’ve been working with that wants a tour, but no matter what there is always someone available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. available to give tours.”
The reception to the personalized virtual tours, according to Crabtree, has been enthusiastic, namely, from admitted students who had intended on visiting the campus for one of its “Weekend Experience” events.
“They’re excited that we have something where they can still interact with us, and they appreciate that we’re trying to accommodate their needs as much as possible,” Crabtree said.
The personalized virtual tours are tailored to the specific interests of each prospective student, rather than a generic tour of the campus.
“While they can’t be here on campus, this is certainly the next best thing,” said Crabtree.
Despite overcoming the cancellation of in-person tours by shifting to virtual tours, Crabtree noted a disadvantage still exists.
“Right now, the real downside is that we don’t have students on campus, which is such a great opportunity to offer a first-hand perspective from their future peers,” said Crabtree.
The college, in response, has established question-and-answer webinars with student ambassadors as a way to bridge that gap and provide prospective students, or soon to be enrolled students, an avenue to seek additional information about campus life.
As part of the personalized virtual tour, prospective students many times are able to interact with Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury or other essential employees (while adhering to social distancing guidelines).
“When I get the opportunity to welcome a student taking a virtual tour of our flagship campus, even though I am more than six feet away from the phone, it’s usually the best part of my day,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “Having the opportunity to connect with someone who’s excited about the future and interested in coming to Unity College is inspiring, and I hope that a simple ‘hello’ and a few jokes helps brighten their day a bit.”
While the personalized virtual tours has, so far, served as a suitable replacement for in-person tours, President Khoury is excited for the opportunity, whenever it may come, to physically welcome people on campus.
“For now, given the circumstances, we’re thrilled to be able to offer these personalized virtual tours of our campus,” said Khoury. “However, we want students to see and experience Unity College’s Flagship campus in person, when there’s the energy that our students bring to 90 Quaker Hill Road. We want the opportunity to give them a proper Unity College welcome, and we hope that we can do that soon.”
Reach George Harvey at: email@example.com.