University of Virginia: A Virtual Campus Tour Created by Students for Students

Here at YouVisit we’ve produced over 1,000 virtual experiences for colleges and universities, as well as brands and organizations on six continents. However, the virtual campus tour we created for the University of Virginia (UVA) is unique, namely because our client wasn’t the school administration — it was a student group. Involved with the project at every turn — securing a grant, sourcing a vendor (that’s us!), and helping with the filming process — the students believed a virtual tour created for students by students is the most authentic way to show the school’s sprawling campus and vibrant culture.

We spoke with Nick Richardson, previous chair of the University Guide Service at UVA, about how he came up with the idea for the virtual tour and led the project supported by his classmates.

How did the idea for UVA’s virtual campus tour come about?
Nick Richardson: There’s a lot of stereotypes about university life and the “typical UVA student.” Many people think UVA is an overwhelmingly preppy school and that you probably shouldn’t attend if you don’t want to wear pearls or a bowtie to football games. I myself carried many of these stereotypes (and the accompanying fears about fitting in) before matriculating to the University in the fall of 2013. However, what I have found in the past four years is a vibrant and diverse student life that is anything but ordinary. As Chair of the University Guide Service, UVA’s student-run tour giving organization, I was constantly looking for ways in which we could amplify these many perspectives of the university. A virtual tour, one created by students and for students, seemed like the perfect way to do that!

I understand there’s an interesting story behind how the experience was funded. Can you elaborate?
UVA is unique in that it is a big proponent of student self-governance, which is essentially the idea that college students have more to gain from serving in professional roles around campus than from constantly working under faculty. The University Guide Service (UGS) is a prime example. We are a student-run volunteer tour giving organization that handles the University of Virginia’s admissions and historical tour-giving operations. From selecting and training our members to scheduling private tours for visiting high schools — we truly do it all! However, the primary drawback of being student-run is that we do not have a procedure for requesting the types of funds needed to create a virtual tour.

Starting in June of last year, I worked with our Vice Chair, Alice [Burgess], to draft a grant proposal for a Jefferson Trust grant. The Jefferson Trust is an initiative of the Alumni Association at the University of Virginia that provides funding for initiatives that promote and enhance student life. Alice and I recognized the impact a virtual tour could have across the entirety of the University, so we formed a letter of community support advocating for the project and submitted it along with our grant proposal. After several rounds of proposal reviews and an interview with the Trust’s board of trustees, we were lucky enough to receive the full amount of requested funding!

“Not many schools would entrust a group of college kids to work with an organization as professional as YouVisit to create an official virtual tour experience, and all without faculty oversight!” – Nick Richardson, previous chair of the University Guide Service at UVA

Did UVA have a specific problem that needed to be solved by the virtual tour? How did the team come to decide that a virtual campus tour was a good solution?
Like I said, there are a lot of preconceived notions about the UVA experience, and I think the virtual tour will do a great job in changing perspectives and inspiring students to apply. However, a virtual tour also increases our outreach to students who cannot feasibly make an in-person visit, whether for financial or geographic reasons, and it opens the tourist up to a wealth of information that a guide cannot efficiently convey on a 90-minute walking tour. And so for a wealth of reasons we decided a virtual tour was a project worth pursuing. After taking a sneak-peek at the final product, we are glad we did!

In your view, what’s the benefit of a school having a virtual tour? Are high school students expecting every institution to have one?
If students are not expecting every institution to have a virtual tour right now, it is only a matter of time before they start doing so.

How did the team come to work with YouVisit? What did you know about us and how did you find out?
We found YouVisit after researching what companies other universities used to create a virtual tour. YouVisit clearly stood out as the most professional organization with the most enjoyable virtual tour experiences.

What role, if any, has UVA’s administration had in the virtual tour?
In terms of tour production and content management, this was entirely a student-run project. However, I cannot thank the UVA administration enough for their help throughout the process. When we needed access to resources across campus, such as the football stadium for example, the administration eagerly set us up with the right contacts. They have continued to be helpful in terms of marketing and promotion as well.

Now that the campus tour is about to launch, what was your biggest learning?
It might sound cliché, but this project reminded me of the fact that the University of Virginia truly believes in its students’ ability to carve out the University’s path moving forward. Not many schools would entrust a group of college kids to work with an organization as professional as YouVisit to create an official virtual tour experience, and all without faculty oversight!

Any final thoughts?
I only wish to extend a thank you to YouVisit photographer [Taylor] Wally [Wallace] for making UVA look incredible despite the 90-degree heat and endless construction. And I have to express my sincerest gratitude to the other students who worked tirelessly to make this project a reality. Many thanks to Hollie Chenault, Mary Boyd Crosier, Alice Burgess, and Brendan Nigro!

For more information on virtual campus tours, visit our Education page.