This past President’s Day weekend I followed the advice I give to students and families – “trod the sod”. It’s time to get off the computer and get on the campus. I visited two colleges and it was truly a tale of two cities — one school went above and beyond and infused the visit with a culture of hospitality unlike any I had ever experienced, the other, let’s just say they had a very bad day.
I was struck by the difference between the two visits and since I do this on such a regular basis I wondered about the impression each of these experiences would have on a family visiting for the first time.
It was the best of times… My “good” visit started with great signage to the campus on highways and local roads. Once there I really appreciated easy access to visitor parking and clear directions to the Admissions Office. Once inside, the receptionist greeted guests, offered refreshments and the Information Session started promptly.
Our “student ambassadors” then broke us into groups and we headed out on our campus tours. The tours are my favorite part of the visit because I get to hear about the college traditions, the trivia and I get a great feel for the campus culture.
It was the worst of times… On my other visit there was no signage on campus directing me to the Admissions Office. In fact, after being amazed that a handful of students had no idea where it was, I learned that it was called the Recruitment Center. That term just didn’t sit well with me because it made it sound like students were enlisting in the ROTC. Once there, we learned that every member of the admissions staff was busy wooing honors students who already been accepted. The staff was disorganized and apologetic but it was clear that they were far more concerned with capturing the accepted students than making a good impression on prospective families.
Things went from bad to worse on the tour. I was placed in a group with an unprofessional and lackluster tour guide. It seemed every sentence was peppered with “ums, likes and you knows” and when asked how best to compare his school with a rival, he just said “there’s no comparison, we’re better”. When we passed the new science building, he asked if anyone was interested in engineering and surprisingly no one spoke up, he said “good, I hate talking about engineering, it’s boring.” That’s when I knew I was having a very bad tour.
Bad visits happen. The problem is that getting beyond that first negative impression is almost insurmountable. It’s very hard for families to put the experience or the student tour guide in perspective and not write off a college that should rightfully be considered. These thoughts are really a cautionary tale for parents and families as well as admissions offices. I don’t believe most colleges comprehend the weight a campus visit carries in a student’s decision-making process.
If you have a bad experience during a college visit, it is important to do your own research to determine if the school might still be a good fit for you, despite your first impression.
Charlotte College Fair – Sunday, March 11, 2012, 12:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. The Park (formerly the Charlotte Merchandise Mart) Independence Hall, 2500 E. Independence Blvd, Charlotte. More than 200 colleges attending. Register at: https://www.gotomyncf.com/ Bring your barcode printout and you will not have to fill out information cards on site.