My Bonnie and I just took Christopher, a rising Senior, on a tour of colleges in North Carolina. When we set out, we chose five different colleges or universities in order to give him a taste of different “types” of schools. The idea was this: when he says, “I’m interested in LARGE STATE school. What’s it like?,” we could say, “Do you remember UNC-CH?” or “I’m interested in SMALL HIPPIE school. What’s it like?,” we could remind him about our visit to Warren Wilson.
After attending official university tours at UNC-Asheville, Warren Wilson College, Wake Forest University, Davidson University, and UNC-Chapel Hill, we feel a bit jaded. Here’s some of what we learned:
- When a tour guide has an annoying vocal tick—e.g., using the phrase “With that being said, . . . “ as a transition between each stop/topic on the tour, everyone on the tour notices and begins to quietly make fun of it. After a while, we wished we had beer so we could play a drinking game based on the phrase.
- Every college student tour guide seems to think that “Interlibrary Loan” is an incredibly cool service that their University invented and to which it still owns exclusive rights. E.g., “If you need a book our fabulous library doesn’t have, we’ve developed this great service that can get it for you.”
- The tour on every campus goes through an instructional building (often a science building) that just so happens to be the newest building on campus. It is always gorgeous and has cutting edge technology.
- If they don’t talk about the food, it’s probably because there’s nothing good to say about it. On the other hand, some schools go on and on about their many food options (“We have a deli! We have a taco stand! We have a sub shop! And your meal plan would work with any and all of them!”) in a way that is much more exciting for potential students than their parents. It just makes their parents want to tell stories about how their college dining hall didn’t even have a salad bar.
- Here’s what excites parents: Finding out that some universities include drop-off laundry service for students (for which the cost is bundled into the tuition), meaning that their son might wear clean underwear from time to time. Also, finding out that the college inspects dorm rooms once in a while to make sure that they have not become health hazards.
- Most tour guides are perky young women who are very good at walking backward so that they can face their group while talking. We found this impressive the first time we saw it, but then got used to it after figuring out that they all do it.
- At the smaller schools, they will put your potential student’s name on a welcome board in the admissions office, along with the names of the other kids scheduled to visit that day. E.g., “Welcome Christopher, Steven, Kristen, and Tiffany!” Again, it’s impressive the first time you experience it.
- All small colleges have a few cute stories about campus rituals or traditions that make their school look charming and unique. If you deal with more than one person from the admissions office during you’re your experience, you are likely to hear some of those stories more than once. Note to admissions staff: This makes them sound scripted, and they lose some of their charm.
- Apparently, the faculty members at small schools are available to their students 24/7, at least according to the tour guides. As parents, this makes us happy. As academics, it makes us glad we don’t work at those schools.
- Things we love that some schools do: give you a free water bottle with the school’s name on it. Talk a lot about how they keep the campus safe for the students. Frequently walk you through well-air-conditioned buildings on hot days. Show you a dorm room where your kid might live (note to admissions staff: when you don’t do this, we are disappointed and suspicious). Tell you exactly how long the tour will take (because they don’t always do this, and when you enter hour two of the tour without an end in sight, you begin to feel like a captive).
Last, and also least, a random factoid:
- Elite, small private colleges have student bodies dominated by Catholics (two of the schools we visited report that the majority of their students identify as Catholics. Plus, we know this to be true of the elite private university where we are employed). I guess we’re sorta pleased, being Catholics ourselves, but we have not come up with a satisfactory explanation for this sociological phenomenon. Anyone have any ideas?