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Why You Shouldn’t Love Or Hate Your Tour Guide

I spent the better part of this weekend touring some Rhode Island schools. Of course, I failed to follow my own advice to students about pacing themselves with visits, but I only had two days to play with. So, in just under 36 hours, I visited The University of Rhode IslandBryant University and Providence College.

While each of these schools is distinctly different from the other, some particular differences came up during the course of two of the tours that really had nothing to do with the schools themselves but, rather, with the tour guides. Now, I’m a big believer in doing college visits before you decide on where you are going to enroll. I know it’s not always easy to visit, but if you have the opportunity to visit the schools you are applying to, you absolutely should. While the goal is for you to get a feel for the campus, the people, the programs and what it means to be a student at each particular school, the tour guide can often have a significant impact on how you ultimately end up qualifying your feelings about the school. This concept was in full force over the course of my Rhode Island weekend.

At Bryant University, which is known for its outstanding business program and international focus, my tour group was being led by a sophomore tour guide. The group was roughly a 50-50 split of juniors and seniors. For the juniors, this was their first visit; the first impression. For the seniors, well, they were trying to decide if this was going to be home for the next four years. While the day was absolutely beautiful and the Bryant students were out and about all over campus, the tour guide was quickly having a negative effect on the families in attendance. She wasn’t doing a terrible job by any means, but quite often she seemed very unsure of herself. The problem was that she was trying to quote statistics and facts along the way but appeared to be guessing. Having run a tour program myself for several years, it was obvious that she was not well-versed in a lot of university information. I watched the facial expressions of a few families during the tour and it was obvious that they were disappointed. I heard one student utter quietly to his mother that, “this tour guide doesn’t know much.” You could see their disappointment and feel their frustration.

At Providence, a Catholic institution that focuses on educating the whole student and service to the community, I was part of a rather large tour group. Immediately it became clear that our tour guide, a very engaging, young man who reeked of cool confidence, was born for the position. He had the tour group eating out of his hand within the first couple minutes and you could see how much he affected their impression of the school. He didn’t share a lot of statistics and, in fact, I don’t think he shared any. What he did do, however, was talk about experiences; the friends he had made over the past three years, the courses he took, the instructors who had helped shape his experience, the activities he was involved in and his mission to win an intramural championship in Ultimate Frisbee. They take their intramural sports very seriously at Providence.

So, here you had two really great schools with some outstanding programs. But the experiences were night and day based on how the tour guides conducted the tours. One tour guide struggled to remember facts while the other shared his personal experiences. Along the way, our Bryant tour got smaller and smaller – families were leaving without even saying anything to the tour guide. While they may have had an appointment to keep elsewhere, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Bryant just got crossed off their list. On the other hand the Providence families couldn’t do enough to get closer to our tour guide. These observations reminded me of just how important a role the tour guide can play when you visit a campus. Whether they do an amazing job or a terrible one, be careful not to pass judgment too quickly. Fall in love with a school because you love it, not because your tour guide loves it. Conversely, allow yourself to let go of a school because you’re not feeling the school rather than the tour guide.

How can you help yourself in this situation? Get to campus early and walk around before your tour. Pick up a campus newspaper and read through it. After the tour, if you have time, see if you can find a couple students on campus and take a few minutes to ask them about their experiences, why they chose that school and what they would change about it, if anything. Sit in the student center and people watch – what do you see and hear all around you? Could you see yourself here? Do you feel comfortable? Do you feel welcome?

Basically, the best thing you can do is take the time to qualify your impression of the school by tapping into multiple resources. Form your own opinions and let the tour guide be one small piece of the equation.

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on tour guides you’ve loved or hated, please use the comment box below. You can also email me directly at

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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College Fairs Coming To A Town Near You

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece that included a tip on college visits. With the winter behind us, the spring is a great time for high school juniors to get out and see the schools they are most interested in. College campuses are very active this time of year; students are out and about, some instructors will teach classes outside, and spring sports are in full-swing.

However, the spring is also a great time to cruise some college fairs. The National Association for College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) will be hosting their National College Fairs through the beginning of May and, in this region, you have several opportunities to attend. Fairs will be hosted in Hartford on April 3rd and 4th, New York on April 22nd, New Jersey on April 25th and 26th, Providence on April 28th, and in Boston on May 3rd and 4th.

Keep in mind, these fairs are huge – typically, you will find a couple hundred colleges in attendance. High schools from around the state will bus groups of students in during the day-time events and it will get crowded. You have limited time and you want to make the most of it. Here’s a couple tips if you elect to attend one of these fairs:

1. Have a plan before you enter the fair. In other words, know which schools you have to see and which ones you want to see. You will only have so much time at the fair before you need to leave or before it’s over. Make the most of that time.

2. Develop a list of questions you want to ask each school so that you can take notes and compare answers after the fair. Get all of your questions answered and make a connection with the admissions counselors who are representing the schools you are most interested in. There’s a good chance, these people will be the ones who will be reading your application.

3. Print your name, address, contact information, graduation year, intended major, GPA and test scores (if you have them already) on labels. Colleges will have inquiry cards for you to fill out and it’s a better use of your time to go with a label than it is to fill out all of this information by hand.

4. Pick up a directory when you enter the fair. Again, these fairs are very big and very crowded. You want to be able to easily find your have-to’s and your want-to’s. If there’s time left over, cruise the aisles and see if there are any schools that you might have overlooked. You will want to grab a bag when you enter the fair as well for all the materials you will be taking home with you.

5. If you are attending the fair with friends as part of a school trip, enjoy the bus ride to and from the fair with them. When you’re at the fair, you should be all business. I can’t tell you how many times I worked a fair and saw students who were treating it like a field trip. Attending a college fair isn’t about a day off from school, it’s about your future!

If you have any thoughts you would like to share on making the most of college fairs, please use the comment box below. You can also email me directly at

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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Is Freshmen Year Of High School Too Soon To Prepare For College?

This past Wednesday, the NY Times ran a piece titled, College Hunt Starts Earlier at New Breed of Schools. The article focused on how some for-profit schools in New York City were starting a formal college search process for their freshmen. At one school, 7th and 8th graders are even allowed to take a three day trip to visit college campuses. While I believe there are true benefits of starting your college planning prior to junior year, I think taking 7th and 8th graders on campus tours is pushing it a bit.

But when is the right time to begin your search? Do you really need to start when your son or daughter starts their freshman year? With the pressure of getting into a good school getting more intense each year – can you afford to wait until junior year?

Well, here’s my take on it.

I don’t believe in pushing a formal college search process on freshmen because, in my experience, it’s too soon and they’re just not ready for it. There will be plenty of time to be stressed out when they are juniors and seniors and the college process is really moving along full-steam.

Having said that, I strongly believe that freshmen should at least be thinking about the things that are most important to them. What subject areas are they more interested in and why? What activities might they want to get involved in? Are they interested in playing for one of their school’s sports teams? Is there a hobby that they spend a lot of time with? It’s this exploration and fleshing out of who they are and what’s important to them that can be so helpful not only with leading into conversations about college, but for their overall development as well.

For freshmen, and even sophomores, creating opportunities to get them thinking about who they are and what’s important to them is what’s important. This way, as they prepare for each successive year in high school, they can make informed decisions about which classes to take and how much time and energy to devote to their sports and activities. And that’s the key here: making informed decisions. When nearly 50% of students fail to graduate from the schools they enrolled in as freshmen, knowing who they are and what they want out of their college experience is such a valuable exercise.

So, if you have a freshman or sophomore, try just having some conversations about school, get them talking about the things that are important to them and try to have some fun with it. Lastly, let it be okay for the craziness of the college search to be put on hold until they are entering junior year. You will be glad you did.

If you have any questions on what you should or should not be doing at any stage of the college search process, you can reach Eric at

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Seven Tips For A Successful College Interview

Last week I wrote about how important it is for students to be the ones to make the call when an interview needs to be scheduled. Today, I wanted to follow up on that idea with some tips on how to have a successful interview. In my career, I have interviewed hundreds of students – sometimes because I wanted to know more about them and sometimes because they wanted to come in and talk about their application and tell their story. I loved it when students sought me out first; when they wanted to make that concerted effort to demonstrate their interest and their potential.

From these experiences, here are seven tips to help you make the most of campus interviews:

1. Arrive at campus at least 10-15 minutes early and make sure you have contact information for your interviewer with you. This way, if you get lost, get stuck in traffic or cannot find parking right away, and are going to be late, you want to make sure they know WHY you are late. Don’t want to worry about this at all? Get to campus 30 minutes early and then you have some time to walk around on your own and collect your thoughts prior to the interview.

2. Have a game plan for what you want to accomplish. Yes, the interviewer is going to want to know certain things about you, but you also need to take an active role in the interview – what do you want the interviewer to know about you, your accomplishments, interests, and goals? Use your answers to provide specific examples the help demonstrate your brand.

3. Bring a list of questions with you in a small notebook so that you are prepared for when the interviewer asks if you have any questions for them. The interviewer will be impressed that you were prepared and it will show them that you are taking your college application process seriously. Just don’t ask basic questions that can be found on the school’s website. Focus on what’s important to you in your college search.

4. Try as hard as you can to be yourself. You don’t need to interview in a suit but do dress appropriately for the interview so that you are comfortable. The last thing you want to experience is a distraction from your ill-advised choice of clothing. Outside of your appearance, you also want to provide the school with a look at the authentic you and you’re not going to accomplish that if you are pretending to be someone you are not.

5. Speak clearly and listen attentively – you’ve earned this opportunity, now go in and own it. Talk to the interviewer, not the floor, walls or ceiling. Likewise, listen closely to the questions you are being asked and, if you need to, take a moment to think about how you want to respond. You want to make sure you are answering the questions but also sticking to your game plan of what you want them to know about you.

6. Don’t be afraid to follow up an answer to a question with a question of your own. For example, if you are asked about continuing a sport or activity, once you’ve answered, ask the interviewer about what they did in high school and if they were able to continue it in college. Did they find this difficult and what were the specific challenges?

7. Always thank the interviewer for his or her time. Get their business card or (contact information if it is a student interviewer) and send them a thank you card within 24 hours of your visit. Keep it simple and to the point but take the opportunity to restate your desire to attend or to reiterate a connection or pleasant moment that happened during the interview. Admissions counselors LOVE thank you notes!

If you have any questions about how to make the most of college interviews, please use the comment section below.

You can also email me directly at for help on preparing for interviews and to complete a mock interview before you go in for the real thing.

Eric Dobler is the president and founder of Dobler College Consulting. Follow him on Twitter.

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