Higher Education

Tour AU Aims to Help More Students Tour Campus

By Cait Etherington
September 24, 2018

Anyone who has ever applied to college or helped a teen go through the process will be familiar with the college campus tour. The tours are a critical part of the college application process. For some families, it’s even a ritual–a purposeful family trip marking the end of childhood and beginning of one’s early adult years. But given the high stakes of college campus tours, is it possible that virtual versions will ever replace the real thing? American University recently teamed up with Sony Electronics Inc. to launch Tour AU–a mobile app designed to give would-be enrollees and parents a chance to go on a college tour, even if they can’t afford to visit in person.

The Purpose of Campus Tours

To appreciate why Tour AU is needed, it is first important to consider the role of the campus tour itself. From the perspective of colleges and universities who are increasingly eager to attract “new admits,” campus tours should offer potential students a firsthand glimpse at just how fun life is on campus. For parents, tours are designed to assure them that the campus is a safe and serious environment that is well worth the tuition and residence fees they will end up paying over the coming four years. But do campus tours work?

Research suggests that campus visits are among the most important factor in recruiting students. As reported in 2018 article by Scott Secore in Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly found that comparable studies carried out across campuses have reached this very conclusion.  As Secore writes, “Despite the prominent roles social media and the internet play in everyday life, people still conduct themselves in a physical world.”

The problem with campus visits is that while some families can visit multiple campuses, others are put at a disadvantage. In fact, families without the time or money to visit campuses in person not only are left to make decisions based on less complete information but also can be penalized. The National Association for College Admission Counseling found that approximately 15 percent of four-year colleges consider “demonstrated interest” as a key factor in admissions decisions and over twice that percentage view “demonstrated interest” as something of “moderate importance.” While by no means as big a factor as grades, this finding suggests that even the ability to visit a campus may determine whether one is ultimately admitted.

The Tour AU Mobile App

American University recently launched the Tour AU mobile app. Billed as the first “‘all-in-one’ admissions app” that offers a one-of-a-kind campus tour and student-specific information, AU hopes their new app will offer more college-bound students and families a chance to experience what AU has to offer, even if they can’t afford to visit in person.

As Sharon Alston, AU Vice Provost of Undergraduate Enrollment, said in a press release issued on September 20, “The experience a student has on their campus visit is a critical component to their college choice process.” Among other features, Tour AU will enable prospective students to wander around a campus via VR 360° videos while overhearing actually students talk about their campus experience.  Tour AU also incorporates augmented reality to help any one experience AU campus life more fully.

AU partnered with Sony Electronics to develop the app. Mike Fasulo, president and chief operating officer at Sony Electronics, is also excited about the app’s potential to impact student choice. He notes that in the 21st century, all aspects of the campus experience are shifting and this includes how students make decisions about which college they will attend.

For anyone hoping to virtually tour AU, the Tour AU app is already available on the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store.

Image: Front Gate at American University available on Wikimedia Commons.


  1. One of the interesting aspects of Canvas is how much they spend on sales and marketing. It’s several magnitudes of dollars spent for each dollar they earn. For the company to be viable they are going to have to start raising prices (to increase margin) and institutions will be on the receiving end of that.

    • Hi David,

      The huge hole we left in the piece is the relative cost offered by Blackboard vs. Canvas. We weren’t able to get a good picture of this because every institution or company needs a unique system, and we could never stack it up apples to apples.

      Do you have experience implementing either LMS? We would love to do a follow up piece on Canvas’ business model/why they’re getting so much new business.

  2. I’ve used Canvas, Moodle, Whipple Hill, Finalsite, a home-grown solution, Google Classroom, and Haiku (now knows as PowerSchool Learning). I have to say that I am most impressed with the capability and integration Haiku has to offer. Second, I like Moodle’s configurability. Google is ultra-simplistic which some people like but it really doesn’t suit my needs. I found Canvas counter-intuitive but perhaps my intuition is just miscalibrated because it’s so popular and in fairness, I’ve never used Blackboard. Anyhow, I’d suggest that if you are a PowerSchool school, try PSL/Haiku. It’s pretty impressive with its features, gradebook integration, Turnitin integration, email contact and so forth. Anyhow, learn to code: .

    Happy teaching!

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