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With school vacations fast-approaching, many families will soon be visiting college campuses to get a first glance of where their son or daughter may call home for four years. One of the more popular options is of course the college tour.

Tours are a great opportunity to see campus for the first time; however, it’s important to have an understanding of what college tours do and don’t tell you.

What they do tell you:
Let’s first remember that college tour are largely scripted. Each anecdote and stop along the way has been carefully decided on by the admissions office. From an admissions perspective, the goal of a campus tour is first and foremost to portray the college or university in a positive light.

Tour guides will typically begin by describing the tradition, values and history of the school with a brief description of the surrounding community. From there, the tour guide will elaborate on academic, extracurricular and social life on campus – taking questions from the crowd along the way. Many schools will also include a visit inside an on-campus dorm room and a pit stop by the library, cafeteria and student center.

What they may not tell you:
If a college tour guide does his or her job, you and your child will leave campus feeling like you got a candid and honest reflection of the school. With that said, tour guides are ultimately ambassadors of the university and trained on how to navigate and answer questions pertaining to delicate and touchy subjects. Here are some examples of topics tour guides are careful to discuss:

  • Community relations – Some of the best schools in the country are located in areas where community-campus relations are less than ideal. While tour guides will portray a sense of camaraderie, this is not always the case.
  • Social life – This is perhaps the most delicate of topics for an admissions office in today’s day and age. Tour guides are advised carefully on how to describe the social scene on and off-campus as well as the policies and procedures in place from the perspective of campus safety.
  • Administration – Whenever new policies and/or school administrators are put in the spotlight, questions are bound to follow. Tour guides are careful to stick to the script rather than voice an opinion when it comes to any conflict between the student body and administration.
  • Admissions strategy and procedures – While tour guides are quite knowledgeable when it comes to discussing admit rates, early decision numbers, diversity statistics and broad categories of evaluation, they will steer clear of discussing (or making an educated guess of) specific information regarding how application decisions are reached.

Getting a completely accurate depiction of a school is not easy; however, tours and information sessions are a good start. If possible, meet up with an alumnus from your high school and ask if he or she would show you around. Or, make your own tour and ask questions of students you meet – most will be more than happy to talk about their experience.

About the author
Marc Zawel

As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.

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