When a high school student is deciding which colleges he or she would like to apply to or attend, stepping on a college campus and viewing it in person can completely sway their decision one way or the other.

But in the face of a global health crisis, in-person options for students and families to view university grounds are severely limited.

Higher education institutions in New Jersey have learned to get creative with the ways they show off their campuses. Open houses, which typically invite thousands of people on campus at once, are going virtual. Walking tours of campuses, if they're even available, are avoiding indoor areas such as dormitories.

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"This is a very different year. What we're trying to do is replicate the experience of our open house as best as possible through a virtual portal," said Lauren Vento Cifelli, associate vice president for undergraduate and graduate admission at Monmouth University.

The university in West Long Branch has a four-hour online agenda planned for its virtual open house on Oct. 25. Just like a typical open house at the university, the president of the school will make remarks to launch the program. A live virtual campus tour is on the schedule, weather permitting, along with a student activities panel, a chat with alumni and the opportunity to meet with representatives from any number of degree programs.

"Actually, I would say that in this format, students will have access to even more content than they would during a live open house," Cifelli said. "Also, for students who are outside of the area, they're able to participate in the event."

What's missing, though, Cifelli said, "is that feeling of walking on campus." The university hopes to reintroduce in-person tours towards the end of October.

A number of institutions in the state, including Rutgers University, are currently offering virtual "visits" only.

Traditional campus tours, although different from past years, are running at Georgian Court University in Lakewood. Chris Krzak, vice president for enrollment and retention, said tour groups are smaller, face coverings are required and participants don't get to access many buildings — but they're able to walk on the grounds of the campus, which matters for many wannabe students and families.

The university also offers a campus drive-through tour. A loop in your car would bring you past the school's athletic facilities, classroom buildings, library and stately homes on campus, Krzak said.

"You can indeed get a good feel for the campus from a vehicle," Krzak said.

All on-campus open house events have been replaced by a series of virtual open houses. The next event is scheduled for Oct. 17 at 1 p.m.

Rider University, located in Lawrenceville, has converted its three large on-campus open houses to a long list of remote options for students. On Oct. 15 or Nov. 10, for example, prospective undergrads can learn more through Zoom about the university's business school.

Rider is also running live virtual tours, which include an admission counselor and current students. Rider's "Bronc for a Day" offering, also pushed online due to COVID-19, gives students access to a financial aid counselor, admissions counselor and others.

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