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  • Genine Babakian

Nix the “Aha Moment” Message on Campus Tours

Now that I’ve taken over a dozen college campus tours, I’m ready to dole out advice. Not to the students looking for their ideal match, but to the schools trying to woo them.

So, admissions officers, if you are listening, here’s my takeaway message. Please, please ask your well-intentioned, backwards-walking tour guides to stop telling potential students: “I just knew School X was the place for me the moment I saw it.”

The trust your gut strategy of college selection may resonate with some visitors, but by emphasizing its importance, colleges alienate those who do not experience that “aha” moment. The more an undecided kid hears the “I just knew it” line, the more he or she waits for that thunderbolt to strike. For many college-bound seniors, that epiphany never comes – no matter how many campuses they visit.

And is that so terrible? Let them choose a school for its size, location, affordability or academic opportunities rather than that elusive gut feeling.

Full disclosure: I was one of those people who “just knew,” the first time I visited the school I was lucky enough to attend. But if I hadn’t gotten in, I have no doubt that I would have been just as happy someplace else. A college is not a soulmate, so let’s not pretend it is to set kids up for disappointment. They’ve got enough going on.

While I am on the subject, dear academic institution, let me offer a few observations on how you might hone your pitch to incoming freshman (and their parents):

  1. Vary the script. Since most visitors sign up for a tour and an information session in the admissions office, make sure the student guides don’t repeat the same fun facts. That is a rookie mistake.

  2. College tours are, by nature, repetitive. Emphasize what makes your institution stand out from the rest. If, after I rifle through the boilerplate about academic opportunity and the number of clubs on campus, I can remember one interesting fact about a particular school, I consider it a win. Maybe it’s an annual ritual, a residential housing experience, a joint program with another university. Polish that silver nugget until it shines.

  3. Offer sustenance – we’ve come a long way. Nothing says welcome like a basket of muffins – or even, for big spenders, a complimentary (or heavily discounted) meal in the dining hall. No offense taken if your budget does not allow you to set out a spread for every event, but don’t skimp on the caffeine.

  4. Swag is nice. But if you are going to give visiting students a pen with your school’s logo, please do not make it in the shape of the campus mascot. It is very hard to write with a pen that has claws.

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