Yesterday’s Times article “Colleges Seek to Remake the Campus Tour” looks at how college admissions tours are shaking it up a bit. Many tour guides are ditching walking backwards and trading in dates and statistics for funny, shocking, or just plain strange anecdotes. This doesn’t seem all that revolutionary to me—I remember my college touring years, and most of my guides had caught on to the fact that to sell the school, you need to sell the stories. I mean, most high school students already get bombarded with admissions info by their mailman in the form of pamphlets and postcards from prospective schools. What really makes a school different to a teenager who probably doesn’t even know what he/she wants to pursue, let alone eat for breakfast? It’s that impossible-to-articulate good impression, not a 20 point lower SAT range or a 3% higher Asian-American population.
Yale’s tour guides are armed with stories to pump up the school’s quirk factor. I can tell you this as someone who has gone through tour guide training. A Yale tour guide will spend 5 minutes in front of a painting in the main library, pointing out communist symbols that the painter had added without Yale’s realization. And then another 10 minutes in the dining hall talking about Safety Dance, a big 80’s dance party that gives everyone the excuse to dress up in leggings and groove to Madonna, and then Halloween, a night where most students go to a midnight orchestra performance dressed as everything from Spider Man to Bill Clinton.
And of course, tall tales to be told about Yale’s history. I’m sure most colleges fudge some of their stories a bit. I mean, would someone really fact check? Most people on college tours are worrying about sending out AP scores and writing a killer essay. Well, the Yale Daily News checked out some of the tales, and here’s what they found.
I think exaggerations or white lies aren’t always a bad thing. I think most high schoolers appreciate tours that keep their attention, especially when it’s their spring break and it’s raining and they’ve seen 10 colleges in 5 days. And I think that college tours make the largely arbitrary decision of deciding where to go to college seem a little less arbitrary.