College Tours Do Not Provide All the Information You Need
Adam Harris (@AdamHSays), a journalist at @TheAtlantic – recently wrote a piece on college campus tours for that publication.
I thought the article was going to help parents and high school students figure out where to get the information they really, really need from a campus tour. Unfortunately, “The Fine Line Campus Tour Guides Walk—Backwards: Guides are expected to serve as the face of the university and as an authentic voice for prospective students. Can they truly be both?” doesn’t do that, so I figured I ought to.
Why can’t you rely solely on the campus tour guides? Because they are trained by Admissions offices to put a positive spin on everything and avoid saying anything negative about the school, its campus, faculty, students, or reputation. Some are paid, and some are not, but it doesn’t matter. If they say anything controversial or even vaguely disparaging, they will surely be asked to give up their position, one that is often coveted, holds some esteem, and provides an important social function.
So, where do parents and students get the info the need?
The best place to go is to current students who are NOT tour guides. While it may seem a bit daunting at first, visiting high schoolers should approach students they see on campus and ask about their experience so far. If the weather’s nice, there will undoubtedly be kids outside relaxing or procrastinating. Ask which school they are enrolled in and, if it’s the school that interests you, see if they will spend a couple of minutes sharing with you whatever is most important to you. That could be:
- What their social life is like, where it takes place, how much of it is dominated by Greek life, drugs, alcohol, etc.
- What residential life holds, what the dorms are like, whether there are fun programs, how easy it was to make friends and feel like they belonged;
- How many classes they took in the first year or two that were small;
- How easy they thought it was to get to know faculty (since getting to know faculty is one of the most important factors in a successful college experience, as I wrote about here).
- What their experiences with academic advising and career development were; Did they feel supported in their efforts to get internships, externships, and summer experiential opportunities?
Most importantly, you have to talk to several students – on the off chance that the first one or two hate the place and can’t wait to transfer.
Finally, ask them what advice they would offer a high school student who is interested in going to school there. Is there anything that would have changed their experience for the better?
If you ask enough people, you will have a treasure trove of anecdotal information that can easily and fairly reliably inform your decision-making.