Extreme Makeover: College Tour Edition

One of the staples of the campus visit is the college tour. Although each school is different, the signs of a tour on any campus are usually unmistakable: a cheerful student walks backwards while leading a group of students and parents and rattling off interesting, well-rehearsed, school-supplied factoids about the given institution.

However, according to a recent New York Times article, some schools, including Trinity University and Hendrix College, are trying to give the college tour a makeover. The changes include instructing the guides not to walk backwards, forgoing the memorized facts for a more spontaneous conversation with the tour participants, and even (in the case of Hendrix) changing the title from tours to guided walks. Colleges hope that implementing these changes will give them an edge in attracting talented applicants by providing a less generic experience for students and their parents, and some institutions have even gone so far as to spend thousands to hire a private firm that assesses their tours and provides feedback.

Although the article notes that there have been some positive reactions to the tour makeover, this new approach also raises some questions about making each tour a natural conversation. Even in the best scenarios, how possible is it for a tour guide, who gives a number of tours each semester, to make each one spontaneous? Even the most genuine and interesting anecdote is bound to become somewhat rehearsed after a while. Also, does a 90 minute tour even allow for a true personal connection when there is one tour guide for a group of 20 or so people?

While I have been on a number of old-school tours, I have never been too put off by the memorized facts or by the rehearsed nature. The aspect that always stood out to me was the tour guide’s enthusiasm (or lack thereof) for the school and for the opportunity to talk about his or her experiences there. If the guide seemed to love the school in a genuine manner, it certainly piqued my interest. However, these tours are only a small part of getting a true sense of a college. It would be mistake to base your evaluation of whether a college is a good fit or not on the personality of a tour guide. Further, since tour guides are often employed by the admissions office, their role is to present the college in the best possible light. For this reason, it is important to speak to current students off tour as you roam through the campus to get a broader perspective on campus life. You should also consider sitting in on a class. Your own research and interactions are often more enlightening than any tour could hope to be.

What are your thoughts on the college tour? Do you think they are an effective recruiting tool or are there other ways that colleges should spend their time and resources when courting potential students? Have you been on any tours or college visits that stood out in any way?

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