Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tour de Forced

Lately I have been looking at those little roving clusters in campus tours with a new perspective. Over the years, I have been amused and in some cases semi-horrified by what I have overheard as campus tours passed nearby. I have been amused by the endless trove of strange trivia that tour guides impart, and semi-horrified when some of that trivia is about my department/building and is quite incorrect (not that it matters). Lately I have been looking at these groups to observe the proportion of students to parents and to see if any students look like they are on the tour without their parents. It's hard to tell of course, but I think most students go on these tours with one or both parents.

Although not something I have to face too imminently, college is looming on the horizon for my daughter, and that will mean campus tours and all the rest. My parents did not accompany me on any campus tours, but these days it seems that many parents do. I can see how the shared experience would give you something to discuss later, and that would be interesting.

Even so, I would rather walk around a campus with my daughter ± husband (not on a tour) and have her do the guided tour thing alone if she wants to go on a tour. I am not sure I could handle all that backward walking, our-rec-center-is-so-cool, the history-building-is-haunted trivia stuff.

I am surely being unfair to campus tour guides by even suggesting that all they do is spout meaningless factoids. I know that the work they do can be extremely important. I have met several people recently whose choice of college was positively or negatively affected by the campus tour guide. In fact, I recently asked a high school senior why he decided not to apply to a particular university, and he said it was because he didn't like the campus tour guide.

I still remember the tour guide at the one college to which I applied (early decision). I was very impressed by her. Did she change my life? Perhaps I would have applied and gone elsewhere for college if she had been an obnoxious bore? I don't know, but I also think my experience on the tour would have been different if my parents had been with me. I enjoyed being on my own, free to have my own impressions and then talk about them with my parents later.

I have discussed this with my daughter, and she is so-far ambivalent about being accompanied by one or more parents. She can see how the shared-experience thing might be nice, but she is also happy to have her own adventures. I told her that if she ever wants me to accompany her, I will, and I will even try to behave.

Did you go on campus tours with your parents (or other adults) and/or offspring (depending on your stage of life..)? Are you glad you did? If so, what was good about it? And if you did not go on campus tours with your parents (or other adults) and/or offspring, why not?


Sarah (@SarahHCarl) said...

When I was getting ready to apply to colleges, my dad and I went on a "Grand Tour" of around 8 schools in the northeast in a week. I actually really enjoyed it, and I was glad the two of us were doing it together so that every night we could debrief and discuss our feelings about the places we had seen. However, I think I agree with you about the guided tours - when we started, my dad came along with me, but after a couple of schools I was feeling more confident and wanting the chance to ask some questions on my own. Finally, I had to (nicely) send him elsewhere to go have a cup of coffee and wait for me to find him after the tour!

Anonymous said...

I did all the tours by myself. Where I am, we don't really have a tour of the whole campus, but more of an open day of each faculty, where you can attend lectures as well. Therefore years later, I was surprised to see highschool students attending with their parents. I think at 17, I was proud of myself for making the choice on my own, and my parents trusting me with it, although I can see now that it is great that children discuss this more with their parents.

The guy who was showing me around confessed he was doing it for the free lunch, that he was leaving the university next year, and that many of the compulsory subjects were extremely dull. Despite all of this, I still enrolled and successfully graduated several years later :)

Steve W said...

I went on a campus tour with my mother after making my decision to attend the particular university, so I can't say it influenced my decision much. I remember thinking at that point, it was fairly irrelevant for me, because I had 3+ years to explore and be a part of the place. In the same sense, a zoo tour is not likely to inspire a person who's about to take three year safari in the savannah. In truth, a lot of the info given out on the tour can be garnered from a map and a few minutes on wikipedia. That being said, at the end of the tour, I was able to ask the guide a lot of administrative questions, and her answers were very useful.

I think the aspect that's really overlooked is sometimes the tour is really geared for the parents. It's important for the parents to see where their children are going to spend some of the most important years of their life. I think it makes it easier to let them go if they really have a picture in mind.

Sometimes as academics its easy to forget how accustomed to campuses we become. To me, they all look roughly the same, even if each has a unique character. With university enrolment increasing, it's very likely some of the parents have never experienced a university campus.

So, I think the shared experience is pretty important.

Note added in proof: I never attended this particular tour, but I had been accepted to a university with a reputation for encouraging savage competitiveness between students. I found out that part of the campus tour even involved splitting potential students into groups, and having them compete for prizes. This seemed so counterproductive that I decided right then not to attend the university. So, I suppose a bad tour can influence enrolment decisions even if not attended!

Anonymous said...

This is a really hazy memory. I think what happened is that I went with my boyfriend and his mom? My parents were definitely not there. And I remember being by myself a lot. I did a lot independently, and I think it really shaped who I am. I think it's important to provide offspring as much independence as possible by sending them out into the world to face new/scary situations on their own often. Now - if my parents were much more experienced in the academic world (they went to local colleges, and did not know much about what to look for in a school or the reputations of different schools) - I might have really appreciated at least their advice on the topic.

My parents really did not provide me with very much help in many ways. I took care of all my registration, finances, etc. I was fully responsible for my college experience. And I wouldn't have had it any other way. It's great to be one of the few in your peer group to really have a handle on your responsibilities, and it forces you to be organized for yourself. It was when I first got to college that I realized I really had to start being proactive in my obligations (health plan enrollment, class enrollment, tuition payment, etc, etc.)

That said, they did help me move (the school was a long drive away), and for that I am extremely grateful.

Anonymous said...

As a parent, my approach was to go on the tour but to let my daughter walk up front with the tour guide while I hung around near the back. She could have an experience similar to being on her own, but we could discuss our impressions later. Besides, I enjoyed (most of) the tours.

MineralPhys said...

I did few campus tours--none with my parents, and went to my college without having visited first. It was a different era. One of the colleges I visited bused a group of high schoolers out for a weekend. This was one of the most fun adventures I had ever had.

College tours are also on the near horizon for us. I doubt my son would let us anywhere near him during his college tours. I would enjoy the tour though. I tend to use these things as opportunities to meet people. (Perhaps that's why my son prefers to do these types of things without me?)

Anonymous said...

Like the first commenter, I also did a grand East coast college tour with my dad, although we went on all the tours together. I later did one or two west coast college tours with both my parents since we were in town. I would have been fine going with or without my parents on the tours - I think they enjoyed them.

I really wanted to go on campus tours because while I can get a sense of the academics from the websites, what day-to-day life would be like is best seen in person and I did not want to shell out a ton of money to be miserable for four years. The tours definitely influenced where I applied, or more specifically where I did not end up applying. I wouldn't call them bad tours since they were definitely helpful, but I could tell a couple of these institutions would be a very bad fit for me (one was so much so, that my dad and I left the tour half way through because there was no way I was going there). While the individual items of trivia are not so important, the patterns in types of trivia they include are very informative (as well as peaking at the gyms, dorm rooms, and dining halls).

Anonymous said...

My parents insisted that I do college visits alone with a few guidelines. We visited during the school year and did a 1.5-2 day visit, where day one was organized through the admissions office (tours, info sessions, lunch with students, overnight stay) and day two was organized by directly emailing professors in departments I was interested in. I have no idea what they thought of a high school junior emailing them directly, but they were generally really helpful (these were all liberal arts schools if that matters).They met with me, let me sit in on classes (one even let me attend and participate in a chem lab), showed me department research labs and facilities, etc. Day two events figured much more in my final decision process.

Before going, my parents helped me prepare questions to ask and topics to discuss, but I attended all meetings alone and took notes. I was nervous at the time, but it really gave me confidence and made me take ownership of the whole college process.

Eva L. said...

In the 80's, my mother (and her best friend, and her best friend's similarly aged son) accompanied me on college tours. We were traveling to visit a number of universities in one week, and we didn't really discuss an option of my touring solo.

When I project to my kids being of touring age, I imagine myself wanting to go, but willing not to if that is the kids' preference.

John Vidale said...

My mom went with me, and I don't see how tours can be bad. We went to all three schools I seriously considered.

As she was a college prof herself, she was helpful in pointing out pros and cons. How many kids at 17 or 18 are ready to get a clear picture forecasting their college experience and how it leads to the rest of their life?

The tours are brief, give a chance to mix with other prospective students, and give an overview of how a college views itself with a chance to ask questions. Compared to info sources we see every day, such as FOX news, they are a model of objectivity and clarity.

Tours for my daughter proved enlightening, and did give me reassurance that she was making an informed decision.

On another topic, writing daily blogs again would be appreciated by your audience.

Anonymous said...

Back when I was applying to college, we didn't do tours. I visited the campus where my brother was going to college, and I took a train ride with a friend for a fellowship exam at another. I believe I applied to 3 or 4 places.

This past year I've toured 10 colleges with my son (5 in California, 4 on the East Coast, one in Colorado), and blogged about them

The tours did tell us a lot about what students on campus valued, and helped rank campuses that seemed similar from their web pages. Sharing observations in the debriefing after each visit was valuable, as we each noticed different things.

One of the most important things for my son was being able to do projects and join research groups as an undergrad, which few colleges talked about. Those that did (and did so convincingly) moved way up in his rankings. Having a faculty member stop to chat with the tour guide was a big plus at one school, as at other schools he was unable even to meet faculty members by contacting them ahead of time through e-mail. (At 2 schools he had appointments which the faculty did not keep—lowering those schools considerably in his ranking.)

the human said...

I'll start with my college visiting experience, around 10 years ago. I went with my mom, and wouldn't have thought to go without her (dad was too 'busy' to bother). I think two colleges I went on prospective student days, so there were lots of organized activities, and the third that I ultimately ended up choosing was in the summer at a school without summer activities, so the tour was the only real way to see stuff. Mostly that tour ended up being sort of taken over by my mother. She went to this college, and the dorm room they showed us ended up being the one across the hall from her freshman room, so she was a bit...excited.

I'll also weigh in from a tour guide's perspective. I was only a tour guide for a year, and ultimately quit because I never got to do any of the big prospective student weekends- essentially, they didn't want to use me to sell the college. I guess I wasn't perky enough (not a sorority girl). I'm not the sort of person who ever reads as excited or energetic. And I was only involved in a few activities, i.e. research and lab stuff, not 12 clubs and sports and mock trial and and and that the other guides were.

My biggest pet peeve as a guide was that I was only allowed to respond to certain questions with policy. If someone asked about drinking, I could only quote the policy, not reality. Only one person ever noticed. I eventually told that person, hey, we are going to see my room, ask my roommate, as a tour guide, I can't tell you, but she can.

Basically I learned a lot of random facts and got good at walking backwards.

Anonymous said...

One or both parents went with me. I found it helpful later on to confer with the parents when trying to remember things like, "Wait, which are the residence halls where freshman can be housed?", etc. I'm certain I could have found that information elsewhere...but the internet was only in it's infancy then, so it seemed easier to ask someone else if they could recall that piece of info.

Anonymous said...

I went to university Open Days (how things are done in the UK) by myself. Ultimately, I was the one going to be attending the university for 4 years...not my parents. At that age (~17) I could be trusted to navigate trains, hotels and new cities, though it was the first time I did it alone.

I'd actually say to let your daughter go alone. It will be a good opportunity for her to be a bit more independent. If she's as intelligent as you, I'm sure she'll make a good final decision. :)

Anonymous said...

I myself applied to only 1 college and never went on a tour - there was a program I liked and it was a different era.

I went on all of the tours with the elder daughter. We have an "at least 2 hours away and more is better rule" at our house. I live in the north east and there are 7 colleges in town and the big state school is much too close. Too many kids come home every weekend and don't really experience the full college experience. Because of this every college was for away and as she was too young to rent a car I was along for the drive. The most interesting part for me was that her supposed first choice ( and she was accepted with big money) turned out to be a place she hated when she visited. After she narrowed down her choices to 2 (she was accepted at all 11 she applied for) she spent an overnight alone at each before she reached her decision. Smartly she took cost into the equation after sitting with me through many financial aid forums and talks about monetary responsibility. She ended up in the South.

Next up is daughter number 2. She and her father did the west coast tours last summer (due to work obligations we have to divide and conquer) and she has 1st and 2nd choice all lined up. Again her choices changed after the tours so I believe that the feel of the campus and the tour can have a real impact.

Anonymous said...

When I applied to colleges (8 years ago), I did a mix of things depending on the specific circumstances. I had a couple friends who were a year or two older than me and at schools I was interested in. One of these, I took the train and visited completely by myself and skipped the formal tour officially. I took a bus to another place that had a schedule perspective student day and went on the official tour alone. I went with my father to two other places, one where I knew someone, and I think we went on tours together at both, but honestly I can't remember. I knew someone at one of these schools, and I know I met up with him while my dad did some exploring by himself, but I think my dad and I did the tour thing before hand. I also applied to my parents alma mater, and both parents came with me to the school, they gave me their version of the tour, then I went on the official tour alone while they did some other stuff. In the end, I don't think it mattered at all to my decision or to my experience in college once I had made my decision.

Anonymous said...

I visited several schools on the east coast with a cousin as a driver and companion on some tours. I liked the independence of not having my parents with me but still having someone to talk with about schools. In the end it was my decision and my life and I was happy that my parents (mostly) let me make the decision independently.

Anonymous said...

Same as standrewslynx, and also in the UK. I loved the independence of visiting universities, traveling by train and organizing accommodation (pre-internet!). I would have been mortified if my parents visited uni with me, but in general I find college students in the US (where I now live) much more tied to their parents' strings (and purses!) than we were.

Anonymous said...

In the 80's I went on several tours (without my parents) - My choice of college was influenced by the tour guide - I chose the college where the tour guide had taken me to the pub, and he also very kindly made sure I got on the correct bus home !

It is a wonderful time for growing up and making grown-up choices - Though I'm not sure if it was a good thing or not that I was so oblivious to the importance of those choices...

Anonymous said...

Some universities give different tours depending on whether it's prospective students or accepted students and also whether parents are included. I only went on a tour after I was accepted (as part of summer orientation). Any parents that came along were sent on a separate tour from the students. The tours have different foci, based on what parents vs. students wanted to hear about.

Lirael said...

I never went on guided tours, and the couple of colleges that I visited, I visited on my own. My parents were both dropouts of the one I ultimately attended and graduated from, and while they were interested to poke around on their own and see how it had changed or not, they didn't feel any particular need to go on guided tours of it, since they already knew the campus.

At my undergrad alma mater, which was a very famous school, the parents on guided tours were usually less obnoxious than the ones roving around on their own, in that nobody on a guided tour ever stopped me in the hall and demanded to know my SAT score or that I pose for a photo with them. In that sense, the tour guides were doing everyone a favor.

Untrained tour guides, like those giving dorm tours during visiting students' weekend rather than campus tours for Admissions, were able to say more interesting things but also had more trouble wrangling the parents. I knew of a case where a parent was barging into private student rooms during a dorm tour, without knocking, to demand that they be more quiet.

I am always impressed by the ability of our tour guides at my graduate university to walk backward, especially since my campus is quite a hilly one. I'm not a coordinated person and would probably topple down the hill.

Anonymous said...

I think this depends a lot on geography. All the schools I toured were in the northeast, which was a plane flight away. Since both my parents were with me, it made sense to have them on the tour, despite the fact that I generally had no interest in them accompanying me to anything. I agree with other comments that the tours are as much for the parents as for the students and the shared experience was helpful when deciding where to apply and attend. 15 years later, my parents and I still laugh about some of the things the tour guides talked about.

Anonymous said...

My parents drove me, so it made sense that they accompanied me on some tours. There was one that I attended with a high-school friend (and no parents). We both ended up going to that college!

None of the tour guides were turn-offs, but for one school, I was completely turned off by the alumni interviewer. The person was clearly a sexist, racist pig of the worst kind, and I had no interest in attending that school by the end of the interview. It was horrifying.

Anonymous said...

I don't have kids myself, but I made those life decisions together with my parents and I would hope that any child of mine would want to do the same thing.

BTW your 'prove you're note a robot' test is getting harder and harder. Even with glasses on I can barely read what it says half of the time.

Anonymous said...

I also did a big tour of ~9 colleges in the northeast with my dad. None of the tours were that great or positive experiences, and I do recall several of the tours/guides being unappealing enough that I decided then that I definitely didn't want to attend those schools. My dad asked a lot of questions, which was fine with me, as I was rather overwhelmed by so many schools at once, that I had trouble coming up with things I genuinely was curious about (and that I couldn't find online).

While I would have been fine going on tours by myself, I think that the whole college tour experience is geared more at parents than students. To reflect that, I know of several colleges that now offer separate tours for students & parents. Presumably these focus on different topics, and perhaps students are more willing to engage in that setting.

What ultimately helped me decide on a college though, was doing a combined overnight visit with current students and sitting in on classes -- nothing can beat actually immersing oneself in that campus culture for a day or so to see if it's a good fit.

Phindustry said...

I wish my parents would have came. I noticed other kids and parents meeting each other and they went out together that night to dinner and to check out the new cities! I walked the streets alone. Plus, my mom would've kept me awake during the horribly boring talks we had to go to.

EliRabett said...

Anyone who has ever played a field sport has no trouble walking backwards. Even tennis will do.

OTOH, the problem is that no kids and very few adults know where the tigers are at universities. Some of the comments where mom was a prof show the difference this can make. It might be a good idea to bring a family fried who is an academic on these trips.

OMDG said...

College tours were ~20y ago for me (yikes!) but a parent accompanied me on all of them

Janet said...

My office happens to be across the hall from where campus tours stop to view a lab. I just wish the high schoolers would quit playing with my doorknob while they are (not) listening.

But as a high school student myself many years ago, my parents accompanied me on several tours. I distinctly remember one in which we were informed " IS expensive!" And I also remembered my mom's relief when I burst out laughing when we got back to the car from the snobbery.