The Secret Life of a College Tour Guide: Six Tips for Admissions Officers

college tour at Loyola University

College tours are arguably the most pivotal part of the admissions process.  Whether it’s a prospective student who’s thinking about applying, or an admitted student making their college choice, the campus tour plays a major role in that decision.  While the admissions presentation is typically given by an admissions counselor, the campus tour is given by students.  Two years ago, I was a college tour guide, and let me tell you, it isn’t always an easy job. Below are some tips I picked up that might help you with your tour guides.

1. Minimize down time

Prospective students are only on campus for a few hours, so make the most of it.  Often they have nothing to do but look at their phones while they’re in the admissions office waiting for the presentation to begin.  This presents a great opportunity.

Tour Guide Tip:

A great way to engage students and families is through interaction.  This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • Ask admissions counselors or tour guides to greet visitors when they arrive on campus.
  • Provide faculty for visitors to engage with while they’re waiting.
  • Use technology to show them what is going on around campus.

Regardless of what your solution is, engaging prospective students and families will help them get acquainted with your institution right away.

2. Be flexible with the script

The campus tour often lasts longer than an hour, which is A LOT of talking from one person.  It’s important for tour guides to learn how to engage their audience in a back and forth conversation. For this reason, your “script” needs to be flexible.

Prospective students don’t want to hear a recitation from a tour guide.  They want humor and anecdotes.

Tour guide tip:

Encourage your tour guides to ask questions of prospective students on the tour and use that information to help tell your campus story.

  • Ask prospective students what they’re planning on studying. If they tell you, point out the buildings where they may have class.
  • Tell them old stories about buildings on campus. Using humor helps engage them.  For example, my college campus is near the City of Chicago.  One of the buildings on campus was built in 1908, the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  The building is mid-tour, so I used this joke to re-engage the families who might otherwise find their attention drifting.

3. Find ways to display/ cover hard-to-visit areas

Prospective families usually express interest in seeing the dining halls, residence halls, and classrooms. But when the dining halls are busy or classes are about to get out, tour guides avoid those locations.

Tour guide tip:

If you can’t show a residence hall, dining hall or classroom, let visitors know why and offer a fix. For example:

  • Meal vouchers for the dining halls are a great way to allow families to see the dining halls at their convenience.
  • An online virtual tour can display a standard classroom, dining hall and residence hall. If a prospective student can’t see these environments live, a virtual tour is the next best thing.
  • Interactive content displays can showcase non-tour locations. An admissions counselor should demonstrate to prospects and their parents how to explore the display.
Interactive screen at the Big Ten Experience in Rosemont, IL.

An interactive content display at the Big Ten Experience in Rosemont, IL.

4. Suggest prospective students walk the campus

Tour guides can only deliver so much information while they’re on a campus tour. It’s important to personalize the experience as much as possible.  However, it’s also important for the prospective student to get a feel for the campus outside of the tour.

Tour guide tip:

Invite prospective students to visit any of the campus buildings after the completion of their tour.  They can observe the atmosphere of the campus and envision what life may be like for them if they attend.

Give them a folder or a voucher that will allow them to go in the library, visit classrooms, and see the recreation center.  At my university, Loyola, each prospective student gets a folder with our school colors on it.  As long as the prospective student shows the folder, they can get into any of the campus buildings for that day.

5. Be prepared for difficult questions

Prospective students may have uncomfortable questions about nightlife or the academic rigor of your institution (e.g. “How hard are classes here?”).  These questions are often difficult to address on a tour in front of the other prospective students or parents.

Tour guide tip:

Have your tour guides offer to answer those questions at the conclusion of the campus tour, one-on-one. I also recommend that you have an admissions counselor available to greet the tour when they return to the starting point. Admissions counselors can help answer sensitive questions and have more one-on-one conversations with the families as well.

6. Tell stories

The ultimate goal of a tour guide is to tell the narrative of your institution.  Prospective students should leave with the best possible understanding of your campus.  Tour guides are tour guides for a reason: we love our schools and want to talk about them.

Tour guide tips:

Ask yourself: If you were touring your campus for the first time, what would you want to hear?

Think about that question and encourage your tour guides to as well.  Prospective students won’t remember the year the library was built or when the new classrooms were opened.  They’ll remember the stories the tour guides told, and the enthusiasm in their voices when they expressed their love for their school.  While stats and facts are important to include, they won’t mean anything to prospects without personal context from their tour guide.

Do you have any burning questions for a college tour guide? If so, write me below in the comments below or tweet me @StoriedU and I’ll do my best to answer!

By: Gianna Marshall

Gianna is a rising senior at Loyola University Chicago.  She is pursuing a degree in education but intends on pursuing a career in marketing upon graduation.  In her spare time, she writes for BT Powerhouse, SB Nation’s Big Ten Basketball website.  You can find her on Twitter @GiannaMarshall.

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