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Looking Beyond the Campus Tour Guide

College touring season is in full swing for juniors — and even some sophomores — across the country as students begin to seriously assess what colleges and universities might be of interest to them.  One of the most important parts of your visit when you go to campus will inevitably be the campus tour, and one of the most important people who you will come across on that campus is the student who is leading your tour.

Why is the tour guide so important?  Because, unless you proactively do some searching beyond your tour, the tour guide is going to be your primary impression of the campus and the students on that campus when you leave.  It’s simple psychology, if you like and can relate to the tour guide, you’re going to like the school and be able to see yourself on that campus.  On the other hand, if the tour guide doesn’t do much for you, then most likely, the school will fall short in your mind, too.

Most colleges and universities realize that their tour guides represent the “face” of the school, and they use their tour guides accordingly as an extension of their marketing efforts.  Tour guides are trained and guided in what they talk about, and they are hand-selected to be positive ambassadors for the school.  In some cases, tour guides are paid, and the school certainly isn’t paying them to be negative about their college experience!  Tour guides are knowledgable members of the campus community, and you should most definitely get their point of view on the school.  But, you should also ask yourself, am I getting a true or complete picture of life at this school, if I just listen to the tour guide?

On the flip side, even with a well-trained, positive tour guide you may come away unimpressed.  Perhaps, the tour guide is an athlete in a fraternity, and you hate sports and could never see yourself as part of the Greek system.  Or, maybe the tour guide is studying engineering, and you are all about loving Classics.  Whatever the case, it’s important to remember that the tour guide is only one data point.  There are potentially thousands of other students who are also on that campus who could leave you with a completely different impression.

So, what’s a confused tour-taker to do?

  • Take a good look around while you are on campus.  Observe the student body with a critical eye.  Could you see yourself fitting in?
  • Stop random students as they walk across campus and ask them to tell you about their college experience.  What do they like?  What do they hate?  Don’t be shy.  Most college students are more than happy to talk to you, especially if they feel strongly one way or the other about their school.  The more students that you talk to, the more you’ll get a true sense of the school.
  • Try to connect with students from your town or friends of friends who are going to that school and ask them to spend some time with you while you are on campus to take you around and answer your questions.  They’ll give you a different and more candid point of view because they have no reason not to.
It’s hard not to make snap judgements about a school — either good or bad — based on your tour guide experience.  But, try to keep an open mind.  Spend some time talking to multiple students and getting a full picture.  Don’t make the tour guide more important in your decision than the tour guide needs to be.

 

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