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Brown turns to virtual touring for current admission cycle

Though University has prohibited prospective families from visiting campus in person, many students and families continue to conduct self-guided informal tours

Despite the University’s cancellation of on-campus tours for this year, many prospective students and their families are finding ways to get a sense of Brown’s campus and learn more about the school.

The Admission Office maintains a consistent policy position with the University and Rhode Island regarding how prospective families are able to visit campus during the pandemic. Campus tours were among the large on-campus events that were canceled at the onset of the pandemic in March, The Herald previously reported. Currently, the campus is still officially closed to visitors. 

Dean of Admission Logan Powell said that the Admission Office understands prospective students’ desire to visit campus, but for the present moment, the Office’s priority is maintaining the health and safety of the community. “We would never want to put either our visitors or our current students, faculty or staff at any kind of health risk,” Powell said.

In the absence of on-campus tours, the Admission Office is offering several alternative virtual experiences for prospective students.

The University has offered a pre-recorded campus tour through a virtual platform called YouVisit for several years, but recently expanded its offerings to include live virtual tours with current students, live Q&A sessions with an admission officer and a student, virtual region-specific information sessions and “office hours” with a regional admission officer. Along with the local information sessions, the University has offered over 350 virtual high school visits, roughly 30 to 40 community-based organization visits, 20 international events and over 20 visits to college counseling programs.

Tour guides showcase Brown virtually 

Live virtual tours are offered almost every day of the week through YouVisit and Slate, depending on student tour guide availability. The tours offer prospective students the chance to see the campus and ask specific questions to a tour guide about topics such as academic life, student activities and postgraduate opportunities.

“I don’t know of many other schools that offer a daily live virtual campus tour, but we are one of those institutions, and we're really proud of the quick pivot we've made to make that opportunity possible for students and parents,” Powell said.

 Most prospective students, Powell said, are surprised that the Admission Office has the technology to offer live virtual tours.

Tour guide Zoe Weiss ’21 likened Slate to the Zoom Webinar feature, where tour attendees are able to see her but she can’t see them. Weiss leads attendees through all the spots on campus using images and pictures and follows a similar script to the one in-person. The platform features a chat function where prospective students and families can ask questions. 

In order to encourage back-and-forth conservation and make the tour interactive, Weiss has encouraged attendees at the beginning to introduce themselves in the chat and say where they are from and what they are interested in studying. 

 Live virtual tours are not constrained by time and space like in-person tours, so prospective students are able to see more of campus and spend more time in places they are interested in. For example, students attending a live virtual tour are able to visit the Olney-Margolies Athletic Center, something that is not covered in person.

Transitioning to virtual tours has been strange but “overall, a pretty smooth transition,” Weiss said. “The biggest adjustment is really just making sure I'm keeping my energy up throughout the whole time since I don't have an audience to build off of.”

David Berin, a high school senior, said he found the live virtual tour to be more specific than the prerecorded virtual tour, and liked that his tour guide was able to share some of his favorite spots on campus.

Weiss felt that although the live virtual tours are a suitable alternative, it’s difficult to replicate the in-person format. “I feel like you can't really beat walking around campus and seeing everything live,” Weiss said. “I think sometimes it helps to tell that you really like Brown even if it’s a rainy day.”

Prospective students visit College Hill

 Although the campus is officially closed to visitors, the gates remain physically open, and some prospective students are taking self-guided informal tours on campus and engaging with current students. 

Patrick LaCroix, a rising senior, visited in March as campus was closing and had a current student give him an informal tour. “I feel as though official student-led tours would have offered much more useful information about the University, but the unofficial tour was still helpful in experiencing some of the day to day activities at the campus,” LaCroix wrote in an email to The Herald.

Berin, a prospective student from New York, visited Providence on the weekend of Sept. 28 but stayed in his car when visiting campus. Rhode Island is on New York’s list of restricted travel states due to the pandemic, so Berin toured by driving around College Hill. Although he did not have a typical tour, Berin enjoyed visiting campus through his car windows and believes an in-person tour would have been too dangerous.

Both Berin and LaCroix said that they thought that the Admission Office’s opportunities were still a good way to get a sense of campus while prioritizing health and safety. “Brown’s options are better than some universities that still offer in-person tours because it is evident that Brown is doing (its) share in stopping the spread of the coronavirus,” LaCroix wrote. “The virtual tours and information sessions are so easily accessible that it provides a nice alternative to in-person contact.”

Current students act as resources for prospective families  

Aisha Tipnis ’23 was recently approached by a family near Andrews Commons and asked to share her perspective on being a student at Brown, with specific questions about campus culture, classes and programs and the experience of being a student during the pandemic.

Tipnis said overall she felt very comfortable speaking to the family and said that “they were just really sweet and appreciative.”

Michela Savignano ’22.5 also spoke with a family that was touring Brown informally. Savignano said the family asked her questions about professors and their accessibility outside of classes as well as what kind of presence Greek life has on campus. 

Savignano said that the family expressed how they felt they were unable to observe student life given restricted on-campus activity at the time of their visit. “The family said it was weird that no one was coming in and out of buildings and felt like they weren’t getting a full picture of what it was like to be a student at Brown,” Savignano said. 

The Admission Office is not aware of when a prospective family comes to visit campus and discourages any families from doing so, Powell said.

Admission Office looks to future of virtual touring

If the University or Rhode Island changes their policies on large in-person gatherings, the Admission Office will revisit its tour options, Powell said. But for now, he encourages prospective students to take advantage of virtual resources, and encourages current students who are approached by prospective families to guide them to those resources.  

“As beautiful as our campus is and as enthusiastic as our students are to showcase it, (current students approached by prospective visitors) should do what we do, which is really highlight all of the virtual experiences that we offer,” Powell said.

 Powell said that although the Admission Office was forced to adopt these virtual offerings, many, if not all, will continue to be offered in some capacity post-pandemic, since not every applicant is able to attend an in-person tour or information session. Increasing the current and future accessibility of on-campus visits, Powell said, is a silver lining in the unforeseen circumstances of the pandemic. 


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