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 Island, Bryant 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.