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Your Campus Tour is NOT About Your Campus

Posted by on February 10th, 2021
Posted in Blog, Independent Schools   

If you’ve taken a college admissions tour in the past decade, you’re in on the joke about backwards-walking tour guides. If you haven’t, you’re about to be.

What was once a distinctive aspect of a college tour—a backwards-walking tour guide—is now the norm. In fact, we’ll bet there isn’t a college tour you’ll find across the country where tour guides haven’t auditioned for the role, memorized key talking points, and yes, learned to walk, talk, and turn on the charm backwards.

Why? Because admission professionals have smartly learned from cross-tabbing satisfaction ratings with enrollment stats: the better the tour experience, the more likely the institution is to yield its participants.

Here are three pointers independent schools can learn from the masters of tour guiding; our counterparts in higher education:

1.Tours should be engaging, if not downright entertaining!

Prospective boarding students have traveled across the country if not around the world, and prospective day students have traveled across town; the least you can do is look them in the eye while pointing out the sights (done best walking backwards)! This means utmost effort should be put into selecting only those tour guides—be they parents, students, or staffers—who can not only command a room, but also think on their feet, strike the perfect blend of authority with humility, and importantly, elicit a laugh. And now due to COVID-19, with pre-recorded video tours replacing live campus tours, the challenge of engaging tour-takers just got harder. Read on to learn how to breathe life into your video tour because it’s likely they’ll henceforth be the first-glance-of-choice for stealth families: those who want a tour before declaring themselves applicants.

2. Replace features and space names with stories.

If you think virtual tour-takers have any interest in knowing—or capacity for remembering—the specifications of your buildings and the distinguished persons for whom they’re named, you’re mistaken. Keep in mind yours isn’t the only school they’re visiting, which means yours aren’t the only buildings they’re entering. Unless you’re planning on quizzing them later, skip the building names and specs in favor of stories about what happens inside them. Guess which one of the following examples will stick with you most after a tour:

Option A: “On your left is our brand new Dollar Center — named after our distinguished alumnus and mega-donor, Rich Dollar. The building was completed in 2018, it gives our school 35,000-square-feet of state-of-the-art design and is home to classrooms, a faculty resource center, a library, dining area, and a student store. And now on your right…”

Option B: “Welcome to one of my favorite spots on campus because it has every kind of space: classrooms, a library, and a dining area — it was brand new my freshman year and I’ll never forget the day I ran into my algebra teacher in the dining area. I mean I literally ran into him and made him drop his tray. But what was so surprising about the chance meeting wasn’t how he assured me that he had back-up chinos in his office, it was when he invited me to sit with him and talk while he ate what was left of his salad. I can’t tell you how that experience affected me, because I realized from that day forward, that teachers here want to know their students. Now when Mr. Bowman sees me in the lunch line he always stands a few feet away, but we’ve eaten together dozens of times over the years and every time he tells me it was the highlight of his day. Now, let’s check out another spot I love…”

The second option tells us all we need to know: the building is new, and a place where students and teachers convene to learn, study, and break bread. But told through a story we see a day-in-the-life on campus while also learning about the values the school holds dear.

3. Enable students to see themselves at your school.

A video tour that fails to give students (and parents) a glimpse of themselves as members of your community is a missed opportunity. The college tour analogy is a well-planned stop at an impeccably groomed, adorably decorated dorm room because it speaks to every member of the family: student is invited to imagine herself and her belongings situated just so, and parents picture her safe, comfortable, yet independent from them. Your challenge is to do this without the assist from Pottery Barn Teen by following this important rule of thumb: NEVER show an empty room or space as part of your video tour. Show classrooms full of learners, gymnasiums full of athletes, theatres full of performers, libraries full of readers, and hang-out spaces full of friends. When video-tourists see how your campus spaces engage each and every student, they’ll quickly connect the dots to how it’ll connect them.

Reach out to Mission Minded if you would like more information about how to optimize your school tours and videos or for help strengthening your school’s brand. Good luck!

Related Content: 3 Ways Your School Can Stand Out During this Virtual Admission Cycle


Director of Education Strategy Romayne Levee leads our education practice, working with independent schools and educational organizations to raise their profiles with strategies that benefit school leaders and their communities immeasurably. She has developed dynamic strategic plans and brand strategies for Mission Minded clients from coast to coast, including San Francisco Day School, Friends School of Baltimore, and Marlborough School (LA). Romayne is the founding Board Chair of Vistamar School, an independent high school in LA, and currently serves on the Board of Lewis & Clark College.

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