By Kevin Pittard
Kevin Pittard is associate director of admissions at Wake Forest University. Here he shares his insights on the 2010 fall travel season, when admissions counselors travel to high schools and college fairs across the country and around the world.
The admissions office at Wake Forest University recently finished its 2010 fall travel season. We have put away our overnight bags, itemized our expenses, and counted up all our college fair inquiry cards. We have survived an eight-week sprint that both saps our energy and re-energizes us as we go out to spread the word about our school. Thankfully, travel season concludes just in time for us to interview more students here in our offices and mentally prepare to read the thousands of applications soon to be headed our way.
For a small liberal arts university, travel is thought to be a critical element in getting our name out to students who might not know who we are. Even in the internet age, when our carefully crafted web image can be viewed by people the world over, staffers in this office have spent the past two months driving and flying to every corner of the country. We visited schools in Miami, went to college fairs in New Hampshire, interviewed students in Seattle, and gave talks in San Diego. One of our more adventurous staffers visited three continents between September and October and is currently traveling in Toronto. We put over 12,000 miles on our office vehicles just in driving around North Carolina.
Now as we make the transition from travel season to reading season, we will once again rethink the admissions travel process. We will ask ourselves if all those miles were worth the effort. Do students, parents, and counselors really use the information they get at college fairs? After all, websites and admissions advice books include all the information we give out while on the road. Do visits to schools and conversations with counselors who already know us well help in the application process or does it foster an ‘insiders club” that hurts the students at more geographically or economically remote schools? Do applicants view the brief meetings with us more as a way of demonstrating interest in us or as a way of deciding which school is the best fit for them? Should we visit the schools that always send us applicants or seek out schools we have never visited? We know we will never be able to visit every school we need to visit; there are simply too many destinations and travel budgets can’t keep up with the demand. Is there a simple answer?
If you talk to veteran admissions travelers, you will hear opinions stressing the absolute necessity of visiting individual high schools every year, while others will say that most travel these days is a relic since students and parents are now savvy enough to travel to the college campuses themselves. So why spend the money? Why generate the big carbon travel footprints or endure the sore feet from standing at all those fairs? Why lure students to miss valuable class time in order to sit and listen to one more pitch from one more school? Does all this travel exacerbate the problem of application overload?
It seems that now is the time to argue for a broader definition of what constitutes “admissions travel”. If schools and applicants are truly interested in finding out more about each other, we need to realize that travel not only works both ways but in new ways altogether. In addition to the tried and true travel schedule, it is clear that the internet, Skype, and podcasts all can and should play a role in helping students and colleges get to know each other better. The bottom line is that every school (and every student) wants to show off what makes them special. So regardless of where student and school encounter one another, whether it is on each other’s campus or on-line via a virtual campus tour, it is to accept that in this new world of college admissions it is more about the contact than about the travel itself.