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Admissions Checkup: The Campus Tour

Admissions Checkup: The Campus Tour


By Martha Lanaghen, CEO and Founder, The Sparrow Group

We spend hours perfecting our admissions scripts, interviewing and hiring the right people and fussing over the way our halls and classrooms look in order to create the best first impression of our campus for prospective students.

But we neglect the campus tour.

When we do campus tour audits, we too often, see a tour that consists of a casual run through the campus with a stop at a couple bulletin boards, and perhaps a step into a classroom to see our favorite instructor lecture for a minute or two. Creative campuses have graduation caps and gowns and even photographs of prior graduating classes hanging on the wall near the end of the tour.

Let’s get serious about this critical component of the admissions process.

When done well, the campus tour can be compelling and set the tone for the student’s entire enrollment.

Take the temperature of your campus tour with our easy seven-step checkup.

Checkup #1: Objectives

Are you and your campus team aligned on the objectives of your campus tour? It might go something like … “We want prospective students to like our campus and want to go to school here.”

Does that broad goal help you make choices about what to include, or key takeaways you want students to have? For the first step in creating a compelling and memorable campus tour be clear about:

  • What do you want prospective students to feel when they have completed the tour?
  • What do you want prospective students to do after the tour?

You are encouraged to think about your prospects fears and hesitations? Are they unsure they can be successful in school? Are they unsure that your school is the right fit for them? Are they afraid they won’t fit in? Your goals will include addressing the most common hurdles that your prospective students encounter when they are considering your campus.

Checkup #2: Cast of characters

It’s impossible to know exactly who on your staff will be available every time a prospective student tour comes through – so how can you create those critical points of contact without requiring your cast of characters to be on call at all times? Can you record video messages or even audio messages from critical players?

One of our client campuses set up a complete tour video kit utilizing a private YouTube channel and a large-format iPad.

When the admissions advisor gets to a department, they play a message for the prospective student on the iPad, and that message paints a clear and personal picture of each department.

Those messages can be regularly updated by any department and then uploaded to the YouTube channel to replace the older message.

Checkup #3: Key talking points

If you’re like most schools, you experience turnover in your admissions department occasionally. Your new representatives may be in a position to receive training on the campus tour, but then quickly they’re on their own to host prospective students on a tour of your campus.

Does your campus tour have a complete and careful script just like your interview? If not, does it at least have key talking points? Five or 10 points you want to ensure that every student hears when they’re walking the halls of your campus.

One best-in-class tour we saw at a campus in the Midwest included a campus tour card that the admissions advisor carried and the prospective student received a copy of the card as well. As they walked the campus, the prospective student was invited to take notes on the card about what they saw in each area of the campus – and the card also served to remind the tour guide to touch on the important points when they visited each area of the campus.

Checkup #4: Program specific

Every prospect wants to know about their specific program. How well tailored is your tour to the specific programs at your school? This can’t be overstated – but don’t fret, here are some great ideas to create custom content for each program:

  • Each term, require your admissions advisor to take a tour of the campus with each program director (we’d suggest you schedule an hour with all program directors and all admissions advisors to tour the campus together). Create an opportunity for each program director to tell stories about the projects their students are doing in class, the students themselves and their creativity and connection to the topics, as well as trends in their industries. Ensure that your admissions advisors are taking great notes. (Hint, in preparation for this tour, all program leaders should be invited to update bullet boards, display cases, classroom visuals, etc. so that they remain current each term).
  • Remember in Checkup #2 when we talked about recorded audio or video for each department? Here’s a great place to record audio or video from each program chair as well. The videos should be 90 seconds to two minutes tops, but it is a great way for a student to see someone from their program specifically.
  • Create videos (again, short videos), that show some examples of the work they’ll be doing. Show students in active learning exercises where they are up and moving about and fully engaged in their learning.
  • Invite program directors to give Admissions advisors a tour of their program from beginning to end. A one-page (or two-page) document that outlines course sequences, skills that students will learn, and fun projects on which they’ll work. That outline might be a takeaway for prospective students, but make sure that someone is walking them through it, rather than just handing it to them and leaving it to the student to interpret.

Checkup #5: Connect to career

Your legal team will advise you on what you can and cannot say to prospective students about career outcomes. Don’t stray from that advice.

With that in mind, there is nothing that stops you from connecting students to a “culture of employment.” Your admissions team can reinforce that your programs are designed to prepare students for their job when they graduate and to set the tone that your program is career-oriented.

We like to see phrases used during tours that set a somewhat serious tone about schoolwork.

While you might be afraid to tell a student that school is hard – our research shows that students actually want to know that your program is “real” and that you take their preparation very seriously. Here are a few phrases that reinforce that, without being too scary:

  • You’ll want to come to class every day – partly because the class will be engaging and fun, but also because you’re getting ready for your job and your employer will want to know that you were a good student. If you have a great attendance record, we can feature that on your resume, and you’ll not only be able to get a job, you might be the first one promoted because of your great work habits.
  • Getting your assignments done on time, and building a great relationship with your instructors will show your future employers that you’re ready for work – so don’t be shy about asking your instructors for help!
  • We give you lots of support throughout your program – everything from tutors to career advisors. But ultimately, getting a job is your responsibility. If you attend classes, do your best work, and build strong relationships at your externship – it’ll be a lot easier to get that first job out of school.

You can also ask the prospect questions to reinforce those points. Things like, “If two students have a B average, who do you think will get the first job offer – the student with great attendance, or the student that skipped class all the time?”

Checkup #6: I belong here

We talked at the top of this article about how you want students to feel. One thing we know, students are worried that they won’t fit – they won’t belong. Admissions advisors should have a collection of great, true, student success stories. These should be vetted through your legal office before being used.

These stories will enable your admissions advisor to relate a real-life success story that is similar to the prospect’s situation to help the prospect see that they can fit in, and they can be successful.

Checkup #7: Refresh!

Perhaps the biggest mistake we make in our campus tour is to leave it alone for six months or even a year. Work with your campus leadership to refresh the content, as well as refreshing the images around your campus on a regular basis. There’s nothing worse than a student getting a tour and seeing examples of student artwork on the wall that is 18 months old.

Relatedly, make sure that the images around your campus reinforce the goals of your programs and demonstrate active learning.

It’s awesome to show artwork from graphic design program, but what about the presentations from your medical assisting students? Or copies of reports from your business students?

Those business plans and data visualization exercises are critical to paint a broad and captivating image of every program, not just the obvious portfolio programs.

It’s also a great idea to have an area where there are photos of your community-building activities. What about the resume writing class? Or the summer barbecue? Did your campus run Battle of the Bands one year? Those pictures are incredible and show how dedicated you are to your students and to building a community to which everyone can belong.

With these simple and engaging ideas in mind, take your campus tour with one of your high performing Admissions Advisors. How does it make you feel? Do you feel connected to the campus? Connected to a specific program of interest? Do you get a sense of quality from the tour? Do you also feel like school will be hard, but you’ll be well supported?

That critical lens will help you spot the places where you need to update, and then ensure that the best possible tour is well documented so that it can be repeated by every advisor, new or veteran, every time.

Martha Lanaghen

MARTHA LANAGHEN is the CEO and Founder of The Sparrow Group (SparrowGroup.biz), a consulting firm that works with universities around the world to build programs that engage students and create strong bridges from college to career.

Contact Information: Martha Lanaghen // CEO and Founder // The Sparrow Group // 303-257-6222 // Martha@SparrowGroup.biz


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