The University Guide Service – a student-run group that conducts expert tours of Grounds – is the face of the University of Virginia for many prospective students and tourists.
With UVA closed for the remainder of the academic year because of the coronavirus, the service is promoting its virtual tour of Grounds, created a few years ago with the support of a Jefferson Trust grant. With the tap of a finger, you can explore all that UVA has to offer, from its 12 schools and 13 libraries, including the Rotunda, and hundreds of student-run clubs.
Now, accepted students have another way to virtually explore UVA, thanks to the “U-Guides,” who have created a custom TikTok for accepted students and anyone else interested in learning more about the University. TikTok is a social media app, especially popular with college students and teens, that allows users to upload short video and audio clips.
Third-year student Grace Tabor, of Charlotte, North Carolina, is heading up the effort. She volunteered after a fellow guide sent out a note seeking ways to support the Office of Admission, which has had to cancel all in-person activities with accepted students. (The office will announce several new, virtual ways to connect with UVA soon.)
“I sent out an email to the rest of the guide service and individual texts to some people and just said, ‘Join this group text if you're interested in helping,’” Tabor said.
The idea has really taken off, with a core group of about 50 guides enthusiastically posting tour TikToks on a regular basis.
They introduced the @uvaguides TikTok account earlier this month:
You can see Tabor in one of the @uvaguides TikToks below. She is the second-to-last guide, who highlights that 85% of UVA classes have fewer than 50 students to a Lizzo soundtrack:
So how are prospective students responding?
“It's been pretty good, which I kind of suspected,” Tabor said. “The cool thing about TikTok, as opposed to a lot of other social media platforms, is that it has this really kind of complex algorithm that I don’t really understand. The biggest thing about it is that you don't have to be a celebrity or somebody super famous to pop up on somebody else’s feed.”
Tabor said the new TikTok has also driven up traffic to the U-Guides’ Instagram account. “Our Instagram has gotten a ton of new high school followers,” she said.
Fourth-year student Liam Zeya, who chairs the University Guide Service, said being able to connect with accepted students and current guides while continuing his studies from his home in McLean has given him a mental boost.
“I think it's good to maintain some elements of normalcy in our lives,” he said. “I think as college students, with this coronavirus crisis, a lot of the normal patterns of everyday life have kind of been ripped away.
“Obviously, giving tours in person is impossible. But I think sort of committing to the visitor experience, a different way, has been helpful. It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “For me personally, it’s definitely helped me kind of stay sane and stay connected to UVA in a way that I am really grateful for.”
UVA’s Office of Admission is in the midst of creating more new ways for accepted students to engage with the University as they make their college decisions.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support from our students, faculty and alumni as we work to offer virtual opportunities for admitted students to get to know UVA,” said Greg Roberts, dean of admission. “The U-Guides and our Admission Student Ambassadors, as well as many student leaders on Grounds, have volunteered their time, energy and ideas during a very difficult and disruptive time in their lives. It really has been extraordinary.
“We are incredibly grateful and we hope these efforts will help those who are considering UVA learn more about what makes this such a special place for college.”