How much can you learn about a college from a virtual tour?

Virtual tours explained: Different third-levels are taking different approaches

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


Open days have always been a feature of choosing a course, but the threat of Covid-19 has effectively closed campuses to visitors, with third levels moving their information and tours online.

These virtual tours echo the current college experience for most first years, with courses being largely delivered online this year and normal student life in hiatus.

So what will they look like, and how can you best prepare for them?

Betty McLaughlin is a guidance counsellor at Coláiste Mhuire CBS in Mullingar and a former president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors. She points out that the CAO online application facility opens this year on November 5th, and says that now is the time to research all course options.

“Virtual open days are still a very useful option and a great way to explore what a college provider has to offer,” she says. “Students should make the most of this opportunity and get a feel for the place they may choose to attend.”

Different third levels are taking different approaches. Most, including DCU, Maynooth University, NUI Galway, Trinity College Dublin, UCC, UCD, UL and WIT are organising big-bang one- or two day-events where prospective students can attend panel discussions, course information sessions, virtual campus tours and more.

Some other third levels are taking a different approach. GMIT’s open day is online 24/7 but the institute is adding live events and webinars throughout the year. TU Dublin and CIT are running a series of live events and webinars across the year.

Clubs and societies will be available to answer questions about student life – what it was like before the virus, what’s it like when most events are virtual, and what they hope for the next academic year.

There will also be multiple opportunities for parents to get information.

What are the practicalities?

Whether it’s an open day run by a university, college, institute of technology or college of further education that provides post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses, students usually have to register in advance.

“They will then have to go to the college website and follow the link on the day,” says McLaughlin. “The college website will explain in advance how all of this works on the day, so check it out in advance.”

What can you find out?

Some third levels are also hosting live interactive webinars, where academics and students will answer live questions.

“College students can answer questions about the culture and ethos of the college,” McLoughlin advises. “You can ask questions about societies, clubs, facilities, library, the local city, student accommodation, student support services, special needs [supports], finance questions, local transportation and more.”

Students are also advised to ask questions about current graduate destinations or careers. “All colleges should have tracked graduate destinations and collated this information annually. Ask also about Erasmus opportunities or work placements during the course of your study, as these are often central to decisions on college and course choices.”

How can a student best prepare for an open day?

“As you begin your career and college exploration, you should make a list of the college open days that you wish to attend,” says McLoughlin. “As they are happening virtually, students don’t need to travel, so they can attend more open days than they had previously planned to attend.”

Some preparation will help you get the make of the day. “Think about what you want to know before you attend. Be clear on which department or departments you want to check out. Have a notebook to hand and some questions ready in advance. Check out the size of the building via the interactive maps so you can work out how the campus fits together.”

Students could also use Google Maps and Google Images to get a sense of what the campus is like.

Open day done, research closed?

Beyond the open day itself, it’s important to speak to as many lecturers and current and former students as possible. These don’t necessarily have to be students on the exact same course: a business or science student or graduate from DCU or UL will still give an insight into what those courses are generally like.

“Through these conversations, students should be able to get a good idea of how a chosen course will be delivered and assessed, as well as presentations, essays, coursework and/or exams,” McLaughlin says.


CIT The college organised webinars and Instagram Live events during the earlier part of lockdown, and there’s more to come. These sessions will be recorded and put on the website for students who can’t make the live sessions.

DCU Interactive sessions, course info sessions, guidance for parents and a panel discussion with first years on what it’s like to be a DCU student during the pandemic.

GMIT Open days and events running through the year, all recorded and available online.

Maynooth University A Friday open day focused on campus and student life, and a Saturday event with a tighter academic focus.

NUI Galway The event took place on October 24th but information, including talks and presentations, is still online.

Trinity College Video presentations, Q&A sessions, virtual campus tours and chats with student ambassadors through social media.

TU Dublin Running a series of online events, some generally focused and some discipline-specific with course lecturers.

UCC UCC already has a series of talks and presentations available on its website.

UCD: Students can chat with student advisers and take virtual campus tours.

UL The university’s event took place on October 29th and 30th, with talks, presentations and interactions from lecturers, current students and alumni. But it’s all available online. Web, Facebook, Snapchat and TikTok are among the ways the university is reaching out to students.

WIT An ‘Ask Button’ will direct students to the info they need, while virtual booths will mimic the experience of an in-person open day.