As both a rising college senior and former campus tour guide, I’d like to believe that I have my fair share of experience with tours. When I was in high school, I applied to twelve colleges, and spent hours exploring campus after campus in search of the perfect fit.
On tours, I stayed at the front of the group and paid close attention to every word the tour guide said. I brought a prepared list of questions, and always asked each and every one of them to ensure that the school would fit my interests and goals. The front of every tour group typically consisted of every prospective student’s parent, and then me. Most of the other prospective students always brought up the rear, with their eyes glazed over and their hands glued to their cell phones.
I considered myself a tour nerd, always just a foot behind the tour guide and bombarding them with questions. After months of deliberation, I narrowed my list to three schools and toured them each one last time. One of the school’s tour guides made me feel especially comfortable and “at home”, introducing me to the smiling faces of her friends and teachers when we passed them. That was it – I had found my school. (Learn more about connecting with your prospective students through their preferred communication venues.)
I became a tour guide as soon as I could, which was the second semester of my freshman year. I loved giving tours, and always ensured that I connected with each and every family on the tour. After being a prospective student on several campus tours, and leading tour groups for the past two and a half years, I have come up with a list of do’s and don’ts for campus tours.
1. Ensure that tour groups are small.
Small tour groups (1- 4 families) ensure that everyone can hear what the guide is saying. Small groups also make visitors to the campus feel more comfortable asking questions, and the tour can be easily personalized to include more information about prospective students’ majors and interests. In a large tour group, guides typically end up giving general information, leaving out personalized details that could have swayed a prospective student to strongly consider attending the school.
2. Focus on telling personal stories.
Students and families are more likely to remember a guide’s personal stories rather than facts and figures. Have your tour guides tell stories about their valuable experiences doing research with a professor, attending a fun campus event, and interesting internship opportunities. These stories allow students to see a glimpse of what their life would be like at the school. Save the facts and figures for the information session, where visitors are sitting and can jot down notes in a notebook.
3. Allow the tour to sit.
Sitting – no matter where – is a huge part of campus tours. Families and visitors often visit two schools in a day to save travel time, which can add up to hours of walking across campuses. Allowing visitors to sit in a classroom, library, or other setting gives them an opportunity to relax while tour guides explain their experiences with classes, tutoring, library hours, and other relevant topics.
4. Hire responsible and friendly students to be tour guides.
Your tour guides are the face of your school, and can often make or break a campus visit. Ensure that you hire reliable tour guides, who will be chipper and welcoming even on early morning campus tours. I will never forget touring one of my top schools and having a tour guide who didn’t seem to care at all about giving me a tour, instead she spent half of the tour on her cell phone. This was a huge turn off, and I instantly crossed that school off of my list.
1. Skip over so-called “boring” information.
Sure, information about your school’s career center or internship program isn’t the most exciting topic. Although students are looking for a school where they can have fun, unique experiences outside of the classroom, they are ultimately going to college to prepare for the real world. Do you have a great career center or programs where students can do research with faculty? Brag about it in tours. It will reassure students—and especially parents—that they will graduate being well-prepared for life after college.
As a tour guide, I have often been asked about drinking on campus. The best way to face this question is by being honest. On my tours, I emphasize that drinking is something that happens at many schools, but it is not something that everyone partakes in. This is a great time for tour guides to mention fun activities that happen on weekends, such as free movie nights and themed late night events. This is also a great time to emphasize that breaking the law and/or school rules has consequences. Have the tour guide emphasize your public safety department’s strong presence on campus. Turn questions like this into opportunities to show just how great—and safe—your school is.
3. Hire students that are not involved on campus.
Hire students that are members of on-campus music groups, resident hall organizations, sports teams, the student newspaper, or community service clubs. These students can describe how club involvement works, and can emphasize how many opportunities they have as a student at your school. Prospective students and families are looking for great opportunities in the classroom, but can also be intrigued by your school’s unique opportunities to get involved.
4. Neglect to show a dorm room.
I remember going on a college tour where the tour guide didn’t show us a dorm room. I wondered just how awful the dorm rooms were, and I imagined sleeping in a bug-infested room the size of a coat closet. From my experience giving tours, students and parents love seeing a real student’s dorm room. Of course, make sure that the students keep their dorm rooms clean and appropriate for viewing.
Administering college tours is often a top priority for admission offices. That being said, college tours should be engaging, enjoyable, and informative. An admissions office should try their best to ensure that their school is unforgettable in the eyes of prospective families. After all, a campus tour is typically a crucial part of prospective students and families’ views of the school and in some cases may be the deciding factor whether or not to choose to attend your institution.