Zoe Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

While prospective students cannot visit campus to see the Arts Quad and Clock Tower for themselves, the University’s Office of Visitor Relations is working to provide them as realistic of a tour experience as possible — virtually.

November 3, 2020

Prospective Students “Visit” Campus Through Expanded Virtual Tours

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When COVID-19 shut down campus, campus tours were canceled, leaving prospective students more in the dark about choosing where to attend college. Although tours on campus are still not permitted, tour guides are still trying to bring the experience to applicants’ homes.

This semester, the University’s Office of Visitor Relations is working diligently to ensure that prospective students will still be able to get a taste of Cornell before deciding where to spend their college years.

People from around the world can experience Cornell in a new format through virtual tours. Individuals can watch a 20-minute pre-recorded video and sign up for a virtual livestream tour on the office’s website. The two options are designed to complement one another in giving prospective students the full, East Hill experience.

The livestream tour features four different student tour guides — one “host” as well as three tour guides situated on campus at locations like Ho Plaza, the clocktower, the Agriculture quad and North campus. 

In the typical in-person tour, tour guides are able to delve into Cornell’s rich history with a special focus on Cornell’s motto: “Any person, any study.” But because the new format only allows for thirty minutes of content, tour guides instead focus more on campus resources and student life.  

According to Aelita Early, the senior visitor experience coordinator in the Office of Visitor Relations, feedback from the real-time, virtual experience has been “overwhelmingly positive.” 

Early added that digital tours allow the office to expand its reach and accessibility to even more people, especially international students and their family members that may have trouble visiting campus.

Student tour guide Amelia Flaumenhaft ’22 said that virtual tours also give prospective applicants the added benefit of meeting four current students instead of just one.

“Traditionally, on-campus tours were given by a single tour guide, but, since it was decided to be more efficient in the virtual setting to have different tour guides stationed in different locations and giving different parts of the tour, guests can hear about the Cornell experience from students with a variety of backgrounds/interests,” Flaumenhaft wrote in an email to The Sun.

The idea to utilize Zoom for tours came to Early in May. Throughout the summer, Early worked with student tour guides both in Ithaca and at their respective homes to perfect the experience.

Camryn Gray ’21, a student tour guide manager, is one of the students that worked on the design of the virtual tour over the summer. 

“The main challenge was that during this time I was in Portland, Oregon,” Gray wrote in an email to the Sun. “So we had to rely on our guides currently in Ithaca … to help us figure out if the rough draft I created was even feasible.” 

The addition of virtual tours seems to have “re-energized” the student tour guides, Early said. 

“As tour guides, we all love interacting with visitors and have really been missing this because of COVID-19,” Gray said. “The virtual tour gives us a chance to do this and talk about how much we love Cornell.”

According to Early, the virtual replacements seem to be as popular as in-person tours have been in the past. Last October, Visitor Relations saw about 2,600 individuals and expect to reach a comparable number this October. Early mentioned, however, that it is difficult to gauge this statistic as there may be more than one person tuning in on one Zoom registration. 

Early expects to operate the same way next semester, but perhaps with added tours for other audiences, such as historical tours for alumni. Additionally, the office is hoping to offer a tour geared towards graduate students.

As for when in-person tours may begin again, Early says they will begin when it is “appropriate” to do so, but will likely continue Zoom tours to expand accessibility. 

The office currently holds two virtual livestream tours twice every Saturday, and will continue to do so through the middle of November as well as on Veteran’s Day.

Correction, Nov. 4, 10:59 p.m.: A previous version of this article misstated Camryn Gray’s class year. Camryn Gray is a member of the Class of 2021, not 2022. The article has since been updated