By Jennie Harris
Every 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.