Campus Tours Distressingly Alike

I embarked on a parental rite of passage, the college tour.

To be fair, this is my second go-round. But, things have changed in four years, and not for the better. The presentations are more polished, the lobbies more high tech and the reservations process more automated. But, the result is a dulling sameness. After seeing nine schools in six cities, we are questioning the need for more. They all sound alike.

Here is a summary of what every college seems to say:

“Our amazing and diverse students, who all did amazing things in high school and continue to be passionate about service and the arts as well as academics and love participating in our over 1000 student clubs and activities, come to our exceptionally safe campus to attend classes that are rarely more than 40 students in size and where no new material is ever taught by anyone other than one of our many accomplished professors, all of whom teach in one of 5 colleges offering over 50 majors for a ridiculously high price that you need not worry about because we are committed to meeting 100% of our students demonstrated financial need and all of our students go on to have amazing internships that lead to careers where they do more amazing things and become one of our many distinguished alumni.”

What stands out?

My son and his friend are impressed by how eager the schools are to cater to students and what they want.  (Apparently this wasn’t their experience in high school) They are more interested than I expected they would be in what the dorms look like (it matters more than the 1000 clubs) and are put off by the regurgitation of endless statistics about SAT scores, requirements for admission and other information easily found on the web site or Princeton catalog.

For my part, I am impressed by how few of the touring students ask questions and how many parents ask stupid questions. I am saddened by how few good student presenters there are. Many make up for lack of articulateness with enthusiasm but it really skews the experience. The tour guide IS the college for visitors.

Here s my advice to colleges as a parent who is quickly wearying of the sameness and a marketer: Don’t be afraid to show your quirky side. It’s what will be remembered.

If you want us to think you are different, tell us why. Tell us who shouldn’t attend, not just who should. Not every kid in the audience has stellar test scores, a track record of leadership and 3-4 activities they have shown passion for over 3-4 years.  Make sure you indicate there still might be a place for him/her at your school.

Finally, more interaction would be nice. We’ve come all this way, and the only interaction is to fill out a card. Doesn’t anyone want to meet this amazing candidate?

Off to the next tour….