Walking backwards is a key requirement for many campus tour guides. You will be mesmerized by your guide’s agility, her ability to anticipate a stair or turn, and you’ll think to yourself, will my kid be smart enough to visually map out every aspect of the college campus, in reverse, if they decide to become a guide one day? But however fascinating this seems, these kinds of admissions theatrics have nothing to do with your child’s education and life on campus. So beware of the obvious tricks to seduce you, the seemingly random performance by an a cappella group as you meander through a courtyard, the star professor who just happens to be walking by, (Cornel West was our siting when we visited Princeton almost a decade ago) or the list of celebrity alums. Remember, colleges are expert marketers.
Be wary if they don’t offer the ability to attend a lecture in your child’s area of interest. Steven Pinker may be mesmerizing as he discusses nature vs. nurture, but if your child has a passion for poetry, maybe a lecture with Helen Vendler would be more informative. If they don’t offer a pertinent course on your tour, ask to sit in on one that you choose from the college catalog.
Question if they don’t present an opportunity to eat on campus. Food is a big part of college life. For some kids, particularly those who have unique eating habits, the food needs to be appealing and available.
Renovations, cleaning, occupancy are all smokescreens if these are reasons given why you can’t tour a dorm. Make sure you ask if the dorm you’re seeing is typical. If it’s top-drawer, ask to see a more modest option.
Finally, be alarmed if there is no opportunity for Q and A or if they ask your name prior to asking a question. You don’t want the admissions team to judge your child based on the types of questions you ask, or alternatively there’s nothing more annoying than an accomplished parent projecting his or her competence onto their offspring. A good admissions team will provide anonymity for asking smart or stupid questions.
There’s a college out there for every person. Seeing the campus is a great way to identify a strong fit: Just be wary of tricks that may prevent you from making the best assessment.