Any parent who has toured college campuses with their teen knows that all the tours begin to meld together at some point. According to the tour guides, every student can start any club they want, the food is always great, there is always a Quidditch team, and you can get the classes/study abroad program/career advice you want just by asking.
But some colleges stand out. Something about the tour lodges in our collective memories, and parents and teens leave campus hoping it will not be the last time they spend there. We asked hundreds of thousands of parents what made a particular college tour stand out for them. This is what they said.
20 things that make a college campus tour shine
1. The food really was great
While every college proclaims excellent food, and the ability to meet every student’s dietary requirements, some colleges deliver, and we (and our teens) never forget. Extra points if we don’t have to pay for that great lunch.
2. The tour guide was prepared, informed, and genuine
Nothing is more demoralizing than a tour guide who seems to be offering a memorized, generic script. Tour guides who make the journey personal, add their own experience, and read the room make something that might otherwise be dry and interesting.
3. Sharing some distinctive history associated with the college
No need to be founded in the 18th century to share some college-specific and meaningful history. Stanford birthed the digital age, and the artifacts on campus speak to the college that exists today.
4. Staff on hand to answer questions that stump the student guides
Handing families off to the principals, without backup from those working full-time in admissions, feels like a handoff.
5. Access to other areas of interest on campus
Whether theater, sports, or engineering, we want to see many facets of the institution. Colleges that provide department-level expertise with their faculty and coaches have our full attention.
6. Tour guides who are honest
College is great, really great, but nothing is perfect. Honesty is valued.
7. Honest money talk for parents
Making financial aid experts available to parents so families can make a realistic affordability assessment is truly invaluable.
8. Transparent talk about merit aid
For so many families, this is not the icing but the cake, and we cannot plan if we don’t know how generous a college will be.
9. Tours that tell you things you cannot read on the website
Traveling to campus can be expensive and time-consuming. For our troubles, tell us more than we can read on the admissions website!
10. Show interest in our teen
Colleges that take the time to show interest in the teens who have taken the time to visit will be rewarded with applications and matriculations.
11. Talk about the college’s plans
Tell us the college’s plans; our student may still be here five or six years from now; how will the college grow and change?
12. Swag, swag, and more swag
We love swag, water bottles, and other treats. We are not above bribery.
A little bit of humor, well-placed, goes a long way. These tours can be tiring and, at some point, begin to blur; keeping it light with a touch of humor can help.
14. Tell us about the campus community
Our teen is looking to join a community, find friendships and connections that may last a lifetime, and show us that your campus is where that happens for most students.
15. Respite from the weather
We know you cannot control the weather, but if it is freezing, raining, or sweltering, offer us a respite from the elements.
16. Departmental tours
Departmental tours are so important for teens already set on a course of study. When future students chat with department heads, they understand what that major will mean to them. Sitting in a few classes also helps in decision-making.
17. Tell us about career services
Tours that include career services. College is wonderful, but every parent hopes that, in the end, their young adult will have excellent employment prospects. Hearing how the transition from the classroom to internships or jobs happens on that campus is a crucial piece of the puzzle.
18. Transparency in the admissions process
Colleges have different ways of admitting students; some are holistic, others are more data-driven. Students are under enough pressure without having to guess what is important to a college. See honesty above.
19. Don’t rush us
If we feel you have somewhere else to be, that you are just getting through this session to get to the next session, we won’t feel like we know your campus.
Show us the dorms and student life. Show our non-athletes the football field and our athletes the concert hall. Show us how our teens will emerge from your college as well-rounded adults.
20. Tours that turn down the temperature
We all know college admissions is stressful, and our teen may or may not get access. But hyping how complicated things have become helps no one. Offer reassurance that the process will work out. Remind teens that no college is looking for perfect. Promise our kids that the best thing they can do in admission and life is to be themselves.
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