Wake Forest University

April 2010

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for April, 2010

Do’s and Don’ts For Campus Tours

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

By Jennie Harris 

visit_tour_655x230Every summer our parking lots runneth over with families arriving from all over the country. This is no average summer road trip. They are packing up the car and charging the iPods on a quest to find out a little bit more about the colleges and universities that interest them (or their parents).  To all of you who are planning trips this summer, we welcome you. We are eager to share the nuances of our respective schools. We know you have a lot of information at your fingertips with pamphlets and websites—maybe you’re even following your favorite schools on Twitter—but nothing can take the place of the all-important campus visit. Often, a two-hour experience on campus can make or break the decision to apply.

As the adviser for the Wake Forest University Ambassadors-in-Admissions, I’m lucky to have a lot of interaction with our current students as well as prospective ones. We have over 100 volunteer tour guides who go through an interview process and an entire semester of training to be able to show you around Wake Forest University.  Last Thursday, we had our end-of-year dinner and awards ceremony. While stories of the best and worst tour moments of the year (including a gem that we’ve nicknamed “Snakes on a Tour”). we began to discuss the subject of Do’s and Don’ts for visitors. What makes a great tour? What can ruin it for everyone? We want to share some of the highlights as you prepare to visit campuses across the country.

Parents, take note. A lot of their advice is directed to you!


  • Ask questions! Our guides are all great conversationalists, but a one-sided conversation is never quite as fun. As one guide commented “I’d rather get asked about my favorite baseball team than get no questions at all.”
  • Can’t think of one? Ask why the tour guide chose that school. This was the most popular piece of advice. Ideally, it is the only “I don’t know”-proof question. If a student says they don’t know why they picked the school they attend…I’d take it as a bad sign.
  • Overwhelmingly, our guides want you stick around after the tour. Hungry? Don’t wait until you’re back on the road– try the food in the eating halls. You didn’t see the gym on the tour? Ask your guide to show you where it is. You didn’t see the Scales Fine Arts Center? Go check it out. People watch! Can you see yourself here?
  • “Focus on how a school feels rather than sheer numbers.  “Whatever college you attend, how the campus feels and the vibe the student body/buildings/teachers give off are far more important than petty rankings or other statistics.  As a college student, numbers will fade, but how you feel walking around your campus remains as long as you are there.” – Andrew
  • Let the prospective students ask the questions! Believe it or not, we hear more from parents than students on tours. While guides will do their best to answer everyone’s questions, they like hearing from the students who could be their classmates in the coming years.
  • Be okay with the answer “I don’t know.” If a tour guide doesn’t know the answer to one of your questions, it is likely they know who will and can point you in the right direction.
  • Pay attention to the fit! It is something you will hear a lot of in the coming years, but it can be a hard thing to define.“I always end my tours with the most helpful piece of advice I received when I was deciding between certain colleges. I did all of these online quizzes, “Where’s your perfect college?” and “Which college is the perfect fit for you?”  In these quizzes they asked me if I preferred rural to urban communities, or over 50,000 students to less than 5,000. At the time, I had no idea the answer to these questions. But the most helpful token I would like to pass along is to take what you love about high school and mirror that love in your college experience. It may only be one or two particular things you appreciate, but they will still be important to you in a few years. Because despite the fact that you will change immensely over the next two years as you enter and adjust to college, the things that are important now, you will still value them in the future.”- Megan


  • Please don’t give your (or your student’s) statistics to a student tour guide and ask what their chances are of getting in to that institution. Sure, they can give you median SAT ranges and the percent of students who were in the top 10% of their class- but they’re not privy to the decision process. While they’re not voting members of an admissions committee, they know it is holistic and there’s no such thing as a shoe-in on numbers alone so it is a nearly impossible question for a student guide to answer.
  • Don’t ask how they are financing their college education. It’s a very personal question and not one that everyone is comfortable with answering in front of a crowd of 15 strangers. A good rule of thumb for any sensitive topic? If you wouldn’t feel comfortable answering the question or you wouldn’t feel comfortable with someone asking your son or daughter that question, don’t ask it.
  • Please don’t hog the tour guide. If you have developed an extensive list of questions, try to ask them at the end of the tour.“As a tour guide, it’s much easier to deal with people who have a lot of questions after the group has dispersed than to deal with somebody constantly haranguing you as you’re trying to convey information that the rest of the group probably wants to hear anyway. In this regard, it’s actually kind of funny to see other visitors’ reactions to the aggressive questioner.” – Justin
  • There are visitors out there who love to play “gotcha” with tour guides. If you have tough questions to ask, again, please wait until the end of the tour. If a student guide doesn’t know the answer, or if you are not satisfied with their take on topic, by all means ask someone in the Admissions Office.
  • Don’t wear high heels on a college tour. Going along with this– check the weather.  Many schools, including Wake Forest, will keep extra umbrellas around but it is always a good idea to plan ahead.
  • Don’t wear clothing representing another school, especially one of our rivals! I feel like this is a no-brainer, and yet, people do it all the time”- Amanda. Parents, it’s okay to be proud of your alma mater—just keep in mind our students are proud of theirs as well and we’d hate to do battle in the middle of the library.
  • Speaking of alma maters—alumni parents, please do not “hijack” the tour. We understand that you’re giddy at the idea of having your son or daughter follow in your footsteps, but a university is a living breathing thing. Schools are constantly changing in many exciting ways, while striving to keep the principles and ideals of the institution intact. The student giving the tour is just as much a part of the university as you were as a student, and their time and experience just as valuable.
  • Don’t forget your guide is a student at the school you’re visiting. Odds are, if they’re willing to go through all of the training and spend time showing you around, they love it there. What may seem foreign or unnecessary to you could be their favorite thing about the university.
  • “While AP credit from high school does apply to a lot of people, it’s not a good idea to refer to it in terms of “getting out of unnecessary classes”. We offer very good classes here, and the students/parents should be thinking about furthering their education, rather then trying to skip out on something that could have really benefited them.” –Allison
  • If it seems quiet on campus, keep in mind they are students first…often both classes and tours start on the hour and a vibrant active campus can seem a little less so at 10 am.   “We aren’t hiding from tours. People are just busy, or in class, or napping, or eating, or are in the library.” – Sarah.
  • Don’t get intimidated by the superhuman tour guide who seems to be involved in every club and honor society available. “I know when I was touring, one guide seemed to do everything and I started to doubt my ability to not only be admitted to but also succeed at that institution. It put momentary doubt in my mind. It’s easy to fall into that trap of insecurity while that tour guide is clearly a wonderful model for the institution”- Vini.
  • Don’t ask students and/or faculty and staff members to pose for pictures—if you do, at least refrain from orchestrating photo shoots. Recently, a mother asked a member of our dining staff to put specific ingredients together, as if he was preparing them, and dictated how to hold the spatula so she could get the best picture. Her son look mortified and it slowed the tour down.
  • Don’t ask a student to compare two schools. While that might be the decision you’re facing, it can be difficult for a student to draw conclusions about a school they know nothing about because it wasn’t in the running for their college search.
  • Don’t be rude! Common courtesies apply on campus tours. Please don’t talk on your cell phone for the duration of the tour (or the information session for that matter!).

Above all—do have a good time with the tours. There are lots of schools out there—and it’s likely there is more than one school where you can be happy. Get excited about this next chapter of life.

 And as for “Snakes on a Tour”? A long story short—don’t cross a school off of your list just because a black snake comes out of the woods. They’re commonly found in most states, and as we all learned, they are harmless.  If it is a deal breaker, take it as a sign that you’re better suited to an urban campus…

Jennie Harris is adviser for the Wake Forest University Ambassadors-in-Admissions.

Post-Enrollment Recruiting Takes on Urgency

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

At this time of year, most of the admissions news focuses on the acceptance and rejection letters that are landing in mailboxes across America. But there is also another admissions ritual under way that is not quite as well known. Selective universities are busy quietly wooing admitted applicants to try and persuade them to enroll. The Chronicle of Higher Education  reports that post-admission recruitment is taking on a new sense of urgency as enrollment outcomes have become more difficult to predict. Because of the economic uncertainty, small universities with high price tags are having to invest the most time and money in the “science of small gestures” in order to get a good yield.

 “It’s more important than ever because the stakes are higher,” Robert J. Massa, Lafayette’s vice president for communications and acting dean of admissions and financial aid told the Chronicle. “College is more expensive, and there’s much more competition for students.” Lafayette, for example, is recruiting students with telephone calls, email messages, and campus events. This year, all accepted applicants have also received a follow up letter from distinguished Lafayette alumni inviting them to contact the sender personally if they have questions about the school. Current students are in on the act too. The admissions office has recruited students to make calls between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. to about half of the admitted pool.  Among them is Hamish MacPhail, a freshman who received a phone call of his own last spring. “I was already sold on Lafayette,” he says, “but the call just kind of backed up everything that I already felt about the place.”

Did you feel the ground move, or was it just me?

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

By Tamara Blocker

I write today from the annual SACAC conference being held in Jacksonville, FL.  As I stroll around the hotel attending sessions, drinking coffee and chatting with colleagues – old and new – I find the conversations shifting in a new direction.  The opening session keynote was given by Ted O’Neill, long time Dean of Admission at the University of Chicago.  He has long been admired for his student-centered approach to admissions and spoke very directly about the frenzy of admissions today.  As he spoke of the evolution of standardized testing and its invalid role in admissions, I noticed hundreds of heads nodding in the room, not just mine.  As he spoke of US News & World Report rankings and its tendency to make otherwise good and honest admissions people “behave badly” I heard a buzz across the room.  As he spoke of the ability of students to apply to too many schools too easily, I think I felt the ground move – really.  Former Dean O’Neill wondered aloud, when will the frenzy end?  Soon, I hope.

As I moved through sessions I found some of the same…vendors sharing how they could cut the information session time dramatically to move prospective students in and out of the Admissions Office and on the tour quickly.  I heard about ways to funnel more students through our respective recruitment pools to yield more applications.  I heard about uses of social technologies and ways to converse with prospective applicants even more.  More, more, more!  Is that what it is about – just more?  What about better?  What about the right students for our respective institutions? What about getting to know our applicants and determining their fit for our own institutions?

I also heard about personalized tours based on student’s academic interests.  I heard counselors expressing their interest to sit in on classes and hear from faculty on counselor tours.  I heard colleagues stand up in sessions and express their concern over standardized validity studies presented.  I heard about direct mail efforts based on areas of academic interest.  I heard many, many good conversations centered around the purpose of our work – the student and academics. 

I think I can feel it.  The admissions frenzy – I think I feel it beginning to shift – or is it just me?

Tamara Blocker is Senior Associate Director of Admissions for Wake Forest University. She submitted this blog post from the Southern Association of  College Admissions Counseling’s annual conference in Jacksonville, Florida.

For Those on Waiting List, April is the Cruelest Month

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

April has been called the cruelest month on the calendar for college-bound seniors. It’s the time when admissions letters arrive in mailboxes, elating some and dashing the hopes of others. But those on the waiting list of the college of their choice say, for them, the news may be cruelest of all. “I’d rather have a yes or no,” says Ashley Koski, who was put on Duke University’s waiting list along with 3,382 applicants. “I can’t make plans and be excited like the rest of my friends.”

 According to the New York TimesDuke’s waiting list is almost twice the size of the incoming freshman class, and much larger than it was last year. Although the university is uncertain how many of the 4,000 applicants it accepted will actually attend, it estimates that only about 60 applicants will be admitted off the waiting list.

 The uncertain economy has led many other schools to take the same approach. MIT for example, saw applications increase by 6 percent and increased its waiting list by more than half to 722. The Times reports. The waiting list at Dartmouth is 1,740 and Yale’s is right at about 1,000. But of the selective schools that make their numbers public, Duke’s waiting list is the longest.

 Christoph Guttentag, Duke’s dean of undergraduate admissions, said the list is so long in part because they received so many applications this year. “What we could have done, had we had another week,” he said, “was to look at everybody on the waiting list and say, ‘Do they all need to be on?’  “Of all the priorities,” he added, “that was not in the top two or three.”

Who Benefits Most from College?

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

collegedegree82Depending on their discipline, scholars can look at the same issue in completely different ways. The oft-debated question of who benefits most from college is a case in point.

Economists would say that high school students consider the costs and benefits of a college education, and those who stand to benefit the most are the ones most likely to attend. But sociologists question this classic economic theory, arguing that it doesn’t adequately explain why disadvantaged youth are under–represented on college campuses.

In the current issue of the American Sociological Review, a pair of sociologists present findings of their research that shows those who are most likely to get the highest economic returns from college are those least likely to attend.

Specifically, their study shows the economic value of a college degree is nearly twice as high for women from disadvantaged backgrounds as for women from privileged backgrounds. The benefits are even greater for disadvantaged men. A college education is worth three times more for them than for privileged college-goers.

“Individuals with relatively disadvantaged social backgrounds and low levels of early achievement — or those with the lowest probability of completing college — benefit the most from completing college,” said Jennie E. Brand, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Los Angeles said in a statement. Brand co-authored the study with Yu Xie of the University of Michigan.

Who is likely to get the lowest financial return? You guessed it. Those students who are most likely to go to college, according to the research. This group would include those with more privileged socioeconomic backgrounds, high ability and high levels of high school achievement, parents with at least some college education, and friends who plan to go to college.

How to account for these findings that fly in the face of classic economic wisdom? Brand says: “One reason college graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds do so much better financially than their peers who don’t pursue higher education is because high school graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds face such a tough labor market.” 

In contrast, those who are more likely to attend college are also more likely to have parents who have the means and networks to help them get a job.

“For them, a college-degree isn’t as financially consequential as for high school graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she added.

“Our findings underscore the value of reaching out to poor and minority youth with less-educated parents and other traits that have been shown to reduce the chances of going to college, and emphasizing its potential benefits,” Brand said.