Say you’re a high school student in China and have heard about Truman State University, a small liberal arts and sciences school in northeastern Missouri. Maybe you learned about it because it has the highest ACT scores and GPAs among all public universities in the state. You’re interested in applying, but it is highly unlikely that you can fly thousands of miles to visit the campus.
If you can’t make it to Kirksville, Mo., Truman State offers the next best thing — a virtual tour of the campus offered in Mandarin. And if you want to take the tour in Spanish, you can do that too.
Last spring, Truman State’s new virtual campus tour went live, offering students narrating descriptions of 20 different stops on campus. Since then, the online campus tour has recorded 10,000 unique page visits a month, including about 75 views each in Chinese and Spanish, which amounts to about 10 percent of the university’s total website traffic.
While Truman State had a virtual campus tour on its website created by university staff, it only offered still photos with captions of the school’s main buildings. The new version, featuring the students’ narration and video clips at each stop, was developed by CampusTours Inc., a company based in Auburn, Maine that has designed virtual tours for dozens of campuses.
CampusTours Inc. was recently recognized for its design of the George Washington University virtual tour, which won the 2014 School/University Webby Award. The international award honors excellence on the Internet and is presented by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences.
Truman State decided to upgrade its virtual tour by contracting with CampusTours Inc. because the school realized it needed a slicker approach to attract prospective students. “We needed to provide a way for families and students to learn more about the university who might not be able to stop by easily,” says Jill Graves, associate director of recruitment in the Office of Admissions. “We’re located in a rural area. We’re about three hours from any major metropolitan area.”
Though 75 to 80 percent of its students come from Missouri, the university has attracted 350 international students who are from 40 countries. After consulting with its International Student Affairs Office, Graves said the university decided it would offer the virtual tours in both Mandarin and Spanish.
“China has the largest population of students leaving the country to go to college abroad,” Graves says. The Spanish language tours, she adds, are geared for families living abroad or in the United States who are not familiar with English.
Though the virtual tour encompasses everything a prospective student would want to see on campus, from the study carrels in the library to the tree on the quad where students attach their chewing gum, Graves says the goal is still to encourage potential applicants to visit campus.
“You can get on a website and you can read all about a school and look at the rankings and the accomplishments of a school, and that’s great,” Graves says. “But there’s something about being able to see and walk around the environment to get a sense of the place.”