The Corner


A Parent’s Guide to College Tours

My youngest child is in 11th grade, so it’s time to strap on the sandals again and tour some colleges. After immersing myself in several this week in the Boston area, I offer some impressions:

College tours are impressively organized and quite alike, with one each in the a.m. and p.m. On arrival, the family checks in, receives a brochure, then listens to a vivacious assistant director of admissions for an hour, mostly about the university (how many Nobel Prize winners, how many varsity sports, how many countries represented in the student body) and a bit about the application process (dates, emphases, tests required). As the talk ends, student guides glide into the room, the 100-200 family members find themselves randomly divided into about ten groups, and they go off for the second hour, escorted around campus by a chirpy student who shows off classrooms, restaurants, and dormitories.

The nearly identical format is both boring and useful, for it allows students and parents more easily to make direct apples-to-apples comparisons. Which chemistry labs or dormitory rooms appear superior? Which campus has the best security?

The holy grail of college administrations being selectivity (type in “acceptance rate” and the name of an institution at Google and the magic number pops up), these well-organized tours have a hidden agenda of spurring more applications. Thus, the sweet, hard, indiscriminate sell.

Two elephants in the room go resolutely, absolutely, and fiercely unmentioned in these presentations and tours: sex and leftism. Not knowing better, one might imagine undergraduates to be chaste scholars and professors to be political moderates. Anything to the contrary is scrupulously hidden, and with enormous determination.

Various indications snuck through of college being a place to park young people to party for four years. During two tours, the library was introduced as a place with varying levels of quietude, depending on floor, but with no single mention of the book collection. One building was described as having “a Dunkin’ Donuts and some classrooms.” On another tour, the guide discussed at some length the virtues of Dunkin’ Donuts versus Starbucks. A tour guide let us know that, being a business major, she’s unsure if Macbeth was written by Shakespeare. Most eyebrow raising was the tour guide telling us that the Stations of the Cross are being set up on campus “because it’s now Passover.”

In all, it’s a morning or afternoon pleasantly spent and one does come away with some sense of the college.


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