As you may be aware, my daughter Kylie is a senior in high school and I have been sharing some of her experiences with the college search. I have written about her initial reactions to college direct mail, e-mail and Web sites and I have talked about how important it is to involve parents in the recruitment process. Another aspect I want to share with you is the importance of the campus visit.
Kylie and I did our initial rounds of campus visits beginning the summer before her junior year in high school and continued visiting campuses through the spring of that academic year. These visits reminded me of the influence a campus tour guide can have on prospective students and also illustrated how many different factors can play into a successful campus visit.
You certainly want tour guides to be knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They need to be able to answer questions and convey excitement about your school. At the same time, you need tour guides who are not providing “TMI”—too much information, especially the kind that can reflect poorly on your campus. One tour guide shared a story about an extremely hard class that was not only off topic and really didn’t need to be shared, but also gave a negative reflection of the campus.
Another suggestion is to tap into sophomore and junior students who have been on campus long enough to have a variety of experiences, but are still close enough in age to connect with the prospective students. Also keep in mind the size of your tour groups. If the tour can’t be one-on-one, then try to keep the number to three prospective students to one tour guide so there is a chance for good interaction.
In our tours, Kylie and I appreciated when the tours involved visits to the residence halls. These quick peaks into dorm life can leave quite an impression (and a point of comparison between schools) so be sure you have good options available, especially during the summer. I can tell you from experience that the dorm-room stop at one college, where the room was just a shell with two beds, two dressers, and two desks, without any decoration or personality, felt cold and unwelcoming. Kylie decided right there that she could not see herself living on campus at this particular school.
After the first round of visits, Kylie eliminated two schools and placed two others at the top of her list. Because of my own experience, I encouraged Kylie to schedule overnight visits at these top two schools. I thought this was a must-do next step for all prospective students, but I have since learned that the majority of Kylie’s friends have not done overnight visits. Kylie, while initially hesitant, ultimately agreed that the overnights gave her an inside peak to the colleges. I am not sure if overnight visits are the norm at your campus, but I want to share a couple of observations.
Kylie stayed overnight at school number one in November and school number two in December of her senior year, after she had applied to both. The overnight visits provided Kylie with a chance to see the campuses for a second time, in a little more of an up-close and personal manner. The visits also were Kylie’s first opportunity to experience the campus without a parent hovering close by.
The selection of campus overnight hosts is even more important than the campus tour guides. These individuals are going to provide a completely unfiltered view of your campus to prospective students. While you want these students to share the truth, you also want to have some influence on a positive truth that can be shared. The campus host should also be outgoing, able to make conversation, and have planned activities to do with the visiting student.
The hosts at both of Kylie’s schools were freshmen. While I understand the rationale that staying with a freshman host in a freshman dorm gives the prospective student an idea of what they can expect the following year, Kylie didn’t feel like either host had had a lot of campus experiences to share with her yet. A sophomore student may be a better choice as a host as they have more experience and perspective on the campus and the first-year experience.
Class level aside, the host at campus number one did what a host should do. The host made a point of taking Kylie to see a variety of events and to introduce her to the other students on the floor, so Kylie could get a better idea of the campus as a whole. In contrast, the host at campus number two was sort of lazy about the visit. Kylie spent most of that evening in the student’s dorm room doing her own homework and not really getting a sense of the broader campus experience. In the morning at campus number one, the host took her to breakfast and walked her to the class she was observing, while the host at college number two suggested that Kylie skip visiting the class to sleep in and sent her on her way with a wave from her bed. That didn’t go over very well with Kylie (or with me)! One other comment: Kylie noticed that the host at college number one was complimentary of Kylie’s consideration of college number two while the host at number two talked down about college number one. That also left an impression.
The classroom visits were comparable at both colleges, with both faculty members being welcoming. We also had meetings with the admissions representative at both colleges. The admissions conversation at college number one was all about how excited they were to have Kylie consider the college (she had already been admitted because they are on a rolling admit, which gave Kylie a sense of security in wanting to attend the college). The admissions conversation at college number two was more reserved since she had not been admitted yet (we are waiting for the traditional March response timeframe), but Kylie left feeling that she would be lucky to get in and that she was not a priority to this school.
Not surprisingly, the combination of these experiences confirmed campus number one as Kylie’s first-choice institution. We plan to send her deposit in this week. I would like Kylie to get back to the campus to visit again this spring, just to stay connected with the school and to further prepare her for the fall enrollment.
I share these experiences to help you think about your own campus visit process. How do you select your campus tour guides and hosts? How do you train them for stories you hope they will share? Do you have a dorm room that you can show off, especially during the summer? What are you conveying to students during the one-on-one admissions meetings when you know that you are a serious contender for the prospective student?
If you have any questions about campus visit strategies, please send me an e-mail—I can not only share my suggestions, but also put you in touch with my Noel-Levitz colleagues who have a great deal of experience on constructing great campus visit programs.
The next step in Kylie’s journey will be college orientation (after we get through the excitement of high school graduation).
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