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Lessons Learned from Bad College Visits


College campus visits are more than just opportunities for prospective students to get a feel for the schools they are applying to.

They are also opportunities for the schools to work their magic and convince the visiting students not only to apply, but also to enroll if they are accepted.

With so much pressure put on high school students to prepare for college and “sell” themselves to schools, it’s easy to forget that colleges must also sell themselves to the students (and their parents)!

While some colleges have stepped up their game, going above and beyond the call of duty to impress students with creative alternatives to the usual campus tours and info sessions, others could stand to improve in the area of college campus visits. These failures, taken from my own experience of visiting colleges as a high school senior, only serve to further emphasize the importance of college campus visits in the process of deciding where to enroll.

College Campus Visit Failures

college campusIn order to fully convey the importance of good college campus visits, here are two examples of exceptionally bad college visits that could have (or did) cost a couple of colleges potential students.

The first took place at a small liberal arts college in the Northeast that will remain nameless, and it illustrates the importance of good campus tours (and good tour guides).

While a college campus tour should certainly aim to be memorable, this one was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

First off, the tour guide was one of the most unenthusiastic individuals I have ever met, delivering the entire campus tour in a dull, monotone drone. In case she hadn’t already turned off all of the prospective students visiting the college though, she went on to describe how many of her fellow students had dropped out because they had become pregnant. Can you say TMI?

Needless to say, I didn’t end up submitting an application to this college after my campus visit.

The second example of a bad campus visit involves a slightly larger school in the Midwest and illustrates the importance of organization and making students feel valued and welcome when they are visiting colleges. Upon my arrival at this school for an overnight campus visit, I was surprised to find the admissions office closed, with an envelope bearing my name taped to the door.

Once I had recovered from this little shock (I had flown to this school alone – for the first time in my life), I read the contents of the envelope and called the number provided for the student host I was supposed to stay with. My call was answered by a groggy sounding student who said that he wasn’t expecting me and that he had told the admissions office that he couldn’t host anyone. Cue images of me wandering the streets of this windy Midwestern town all alone with nowhere to sleep.

Luckily, my host agreed to take me in despite the mix-up, and he ended up showing me a great time around campus – such a great time, in fact, that I was able to look past the initial flaws and ended up enrolling there for college. This is an exception to the rule though, and it does not give colleges free rein to neglect their visiting prospective students!

Successful College Campus Visits

Auburn University

As evidenced by my first bad college campus visit, a major factor in successful college visits is an engaging campus tour.

Tour guides should be confident and exude enthusiasm – though not in an overly-peppy, insincere way, as this can be just as much of a turn-off as a total lack of enthusiasm.

Campus tours should also be about more than giving prospective students an informative view of the school. They should incorporate personal touches that make visiting students feel welcome and help them to get a real sense of what life is like on campus.

College visits can be improved further by attention to detail and organization – the lack of which almost caused me to write the second school off. Simple touches such as welcoming committees, shuttles picking up students from the airport, and social events for visiting students can go a long way to make prospective students feel valued by colleges and perhaps more likely to enroll.

Some colleges go above and beyond what is expected, making college visits into a real one-of-a-kind experience. Sewanee: The University of the South, for instance, offers hikes throughout the surrounding area in addition to its normal campus tours. Other schools allow visiting students to tour the campus by bike or monorail as an alternative to the more traditional walking tour.

Even more colleges, such as Meredith College in North Carolina and Saint Leo University in Florida, are going the extra mile to make visiting students feel welcome by providing personal touches like welcome signs and parking spaces with visitors’ names on them.

While it isn’t essential for all colleges to go to these lengths of creativity, a considerable amount of care should be put into making campus visits an enjoyable and meaningful experience for prospective students. College campus visits are a chance to reach out to prospective students and give them a real sense of what college life is all about.

As long as schools avoid the major pitfalls, campus visits can be immensely fun and useful experiences that will help prospective students make the right choice in selecting a college.

What were your experiences like visiting college campuses? Any horror stories or exceptionally great experiences? Tell us about your most memorable college campus visits by leaving a comment below!



One Response to “Lessons Learned from Bad College Visits”

  1. Kacie Says:

    I toured Washington University in St. Louis the day after a massive thunderstorm that left half a million people in the city without power. Driving to the school from our hotel was awful – the directions we’d Mapquested were useless because of road closures, and we didn’t have smartphones to help us find our way. Once we got there, though, the tour guide was awesome! She made sure we all knew that storms like that one were not the norm in St. Louis, and gave a great tour that made me excited to get home and apply. She even gave my mother and me some info about the venue where we had concert tickets that night. I didn’t end up going to Wash U, but I still recommend it to high schoolers I talk to.

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