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Video tours offer fresh perspectives on colleges

March 02, 2007|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Thanks to Lauren Black, a freshman biology major at West Virginia University, high school students can find out what the WVU dorms are really like without setting foot on campus.

You can see her video diary and the diaries of eight others simply by going to the university's Web site, www.wvu.edu.

WVU's student video diaries went live in 2005. Students capture the footage and send the tapes to the school's news and information services department, which edits them and posts them online. Black said she tries to post a video at least once a month.

The video dairies are part of a new trend in college recruiting. Colleges and businesses that cater to college-bound people are handing students cameras and posting the footage online.

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"Research and studies show this is a new trend," said Becky Lofstead, director of WVU's news and information services. "I think students today are pretty savvy. They text-message, they e-mail, they have blogs, and they have MySpace sites. I think this is just an extension of that. It's a great context for them."

And the appeal?

"It's coming from other students," said Black, 18, a graduate of Shippensburg Area Senior High School and a member of WVU's marching band.

She said she had never heard of video diaries and virtual campus tours until she attended WVU, where she was asked to document her experiences as a freshman last fall.

"I think it's a really neat idea just to have normal students coming together to say what it's like to come here," she said.

By clicking on her diary at the WVU site, you can see her video bio, her experience moving into the dorms and what it was like during the band's recent trip to the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl in Florida.

The video of her moving into Lincoln hall opens with her smiling, as she lugs a box down the hallway to her new room. There's a shot of the narrow but clean room, with Black and two other girls sifting through packages, figuring out whose stuff goes where.

As the scenes play, we hear Black's voice: "It's a pretty cool experience. I'm really excited about just being a freshman here. This is a brand new dorm. It's such an opportunity and I'm really excited to be here."

Doug Imbruce is founder and CEO of TheU.com, a Web business that posts online student videos and rankings for colleges and universities across the nation - including University of Maryland, College Park.

His Web site has student shorts for the 50 most popular colleges based on the number of applications. There are also rankings and reviews for more than 2,000 schools.

Unlike video diaries posted on official college sites, TheU.com offers what Imbruce referred to as "uncensored college video tours." His camera crews ask students what they think about the food, the social scene, the academics and the dorms, among other things.

Students also can post their own videos on the site. There's not much limit to what people are allowed to post, but pornography or anything grossly offensive is not allowed on the site, said Imbruce, 25, who founded TheU.com in 2005, as a senior English major at Columbia University.

For the University of Maryland, College Park, for example, visitors might notice that alongside videos on the school's academics, food quality and admissions process is a 26-second, student-posted recording of five guys dressed in Halloween costumes dancing to "Walk it Out."

When it comes down to it, Imbruce, college officials and local school officials say online videos aren't a threat to the good-old-fashioned campus visit.

"Kids are still going on campus tours," said Jennings Vanorsdale, a guidance counselor at Washington County Technical High School.

But virtual tours, Vanorsdale said, might help students figure out which schools they'd want to visit this fall, when most high-schoolers typically embark on campus visits.

"I think it saves paper, and the kids are into it," he said. "It's not just pen and paper any more. We've got the technology. Why not use it?"

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