Web site now offers students a virtual tour of virtually all major colleges
By LESLIE WILLIAMS (Contact)
NAPLES — Ferrari St. Paul has visited more than 100 colleges in search of the perfect school.The Lely High School graduate couldn’t afford to visit many schools before her 2001 graduation, though. It was only after she attended and graduated from Florida Atlantic University that St. Paul started touring schools across the country, all to give future college-bound high school students a chance to check out prospective schools with the click of a mouse.
YOUniversityTV.com, St. Paul’s employer, made its official launch in April, just in time for the summer onslaught of college tours and SAT cramming typical among rising high school seniors.
The Web site now boasts video tours of more than 400 colleges and universities, with another 100 coming soon to round out the nation’s top 500 schools, site co-creator Ron Reis said. “When it started off, it was done through a bit of trial-and-error and testing it in front of our viewers,” said Reis, 39. “It’s not very scientific. We had three or four local high schools we took the videos to. We gave them questionnaires. They said, certainly, they want the statistics of the academics.” Reis, whose company is based in Miami, said that process formed a template the videos now follow.
Each video is introduced with the basic statistics on each school: where it is located, how many people attend, the ratio of male-to-female students, the GPA and SAT scores required for entry and annual tuition. The fast-paced, six- to 10-minute videos also hit the highlights of academic programs, social life and provide a peek at dorm rooms.
“It’s free for our users, which is what our mission is,” Reis said. “It fulfills a need. The cost-saving component of it is integral. According to the Princeton Review, the average family is going to fly to three different colleges. When you look at the cost of gasoline going up already, even staying here in the state of Florida, if I wanted to do a tour of the schools in Florida it gets very expensive.”
Still, South Fort Myers High School counselor Connie Britcher recommends her students see all prospective schools in person, and says students should never commit to a school without seeing it first-hand.
“I really do try and tell them to do that and to go and visit and to take tours, because you have current students who are on campus, who can tell you things that you wouldn’t learn before doing an online tour,” Britcher said.
But for students at the start of their college search, YOUniversityTV is at least a place to start, Reis said.
“If we can narrow it down,” Reis said, “and say, ‘I can rule out Gainesville because I can tell that the town of Gainesville is just not for me,’ that’s a start.”
That’s exactly where South Fort Myers High School rising senior Matt King finds himself.
Matt, 17, is looking to stay in Florida, where the Bright Futures Scholarship makes many of the state’s public schools within reach for college-bound students. YOUniversityTV features 16 videos of Florida schools alone, including Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero. “Right now I’m still just looking at the basics of each college, what they can offer in the way of majors,” Matt said. “I’m big into the sciences. I still have quite a few schools — the main one I’m looking at is Jacksonville University. They have a good genetics program, which interests me.”
Matt, who is having trouble finding a summer job like many teens, plans to spend his free time driving around the state checking out schools before the fall, he said.
A tool that could help him narrow his search is appealing, he said.
For St. Paul, who graduated from Lely in 2001, her job has been a chance to check out schools she might never have otherwise. She majored in theater at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, the only school she visited before her high school graduation.
“It was kind of a difficult time when I was graduating as far as my life and money and that kind of thing,” she said. “I didn’t have the resources like this; I did my research online.”
With a tool like YOUniversityTV, said St. Paul, 26, “I probably would have ended up in Hawaii or something.” “It seemed so far-fetched,” she said about the idea of attending a school so far from home. “But if you can just pull it up online and actually see video, you can see people, they give you stats of where people are from.”
Since filming and tours began in 2007, the company has added six full-time “hosts,” like St. Paul.
Each host spends a week at each school filming and gathering information. No money is exchanged between the schools and YOUniversityTV, and the Web site makes its money from advertisements.
“They know we’re going to come out and tape what we see, but we can’t make it something it’s not and we don’t intend to do that,” Reis said. “We tape what we see when we go there. The feedback we get from the schools, the feedback we get from the alumni who go there, is that it is an exact interpretation as to what they would see.”
The Web site is trying to cultivate a social network, as well, the likes of Facebook and MySpace. Users are encouraged to create profiles, write blogs, join groups and engage each other in discussion. It even boasts a “YOUtorium,” where users can post videos of their own colleges.
“They’re showing it from their point of view,” Reis said. “They trust the opinion of their peer more than they trust the school-provided video, and more than they would, quite frankly, trust our video.” For students interested in college, it is never too soon to start shopping around, Britcher said.
“Here, the counselors go in and start talking to the kids from ninth grade and up,” Britcher said. “They don’t have to wait until right before their senior year. If you’re on vacation somewhere this summer, just drive around the campus to see what it’s like.”
Or, if you’re stuck in town, you can always hop on the Web and take a video tour for a spin.
Click the link below to visit the College or University of your choice.