For all you know, Tenured Radical has visited your campus recently. Yes, that’s right: an anonymous member of La famille Radicale has been looking at institutions of Higher Education, and I occasionally facilitate the journey. This means I get to take a Busman’s Holiday and go along on the College Tour. This little ritual is something I only see glimpses of at Zenith. In fact, I try to avoid tour groups since the day, years ago, when one of my students got a wicked look on his face when I was innocently returning books to the library and said in a happy voice to his group: “Ooooooh! Look! A real college professor!”
I can only boast a little insight into this arcane practice, but here are a few do’s and don’ts, aimed at different audiences.
If you are a parent: There only needs to be one of you on the tour. I am told by a native informant that it looks “geeky” to be accompanied by two adults. Don’t ask questions, especially when encouraged to do so by representatives of the college! This is humiliating, not only to your college-bound teen, but to the rest of us who have been schooled by our young companions not to ask questions. In fact, there is no point in you asking questions: you won’t be going to school there, anything you need to know can be answered with a quick look at the web page, and the person you are talking to is unlikely to be calculating your progeny’s financial aid package. If your point is that you are “modeling” to your son/daughter how to ask a question, please note that s/he is pretending that you are that other kid’s parent. I’m just saying.
If you are a tour guide: Don’t take us to your very own dormitory room — or if you must, do clean it first. My young companion and I agreed later that one of the rooms we saw, occupied by a very earth-conscious pair of students, was in the process of composting. Furthermore, when you create an opportunity for questions, do wait more than two beats before saying “OK! let’s move on then!” Teenagers — or any other human being — are unlikely to think up a question in less than three seconds.
Best tour, in my book? The one where the student learned the names of all five prospective students and made a point of talking to them individually. Worst tour? At Big Ivy, where we stood in the sun in 90 degree heat, on the track, in the stadium, for 20 minutes, listening to memories of fun times at football games past. Don’t linger over the possibilities for substance-free living in a house where people are high on life and popping corn while other students are waking and baking — unless you are trying to forestall a parent asking a question about drugs and alcohol on campus. In that case, go for it. Point at any building and gush over the pleasures of sobriety.
If you are a college-bound teen: Don’t do anything irreparably awful to your person prior to interviewing season. This suggests that you have difficulty anticipating what the future might require. On one of our visits, we were accompanied by a young person who had in the very recent past obviously gotten a Mohawk haircut and then dyed only the Mohawk blond. Those who tried to address this problem did so with a head shaving — which made said young person look like s/he had a cranial racing stripe. Do try to forgive your parents for asking all those questions, and know that it is physically impossible to merge with your chair and become invisible while they are doing it. Do try to look like someone who might want to attend college after all, and not like someone who has been kidnapped by a paedophilic couple and forced to go on college tours as part of some sick Satanic ritual.
If you are an admissions staff person running the information session: Do consider scrapping the information session. It makes the visit so unbearably long and repetitive that there is no urge to linger and poke around the campus in an unstructured way. The best tour I took combined the info session and tour, gave us less information, and I remember more about that school than any other. Don’t spend a lot of time explaining what a liberal arts education is without asking everyone if they really want to know, particularly in the fall when your customers are more or less wrapping up the look-see phase and have had the joys of the liberal arts explained to them repeatedly. And do consider making umbrellas available on a rainy day — Zenith does. I know this because I always grab a few whenever I am over there just to make sure I always have one in an emergency.
If you are an adult companion who teaches at a selective school: Do not reveal this information. I made this mistake, in response to another adult companion asking me what I did for a living. The other adults start to glow enviously, and you want to explain that you weren’t admitted to that school, you work there. Do make up something else that will make your teen seem interesting. Consider answering: ”I’m in ‘the business;’” “We’re bankrupt!” or flashing a toothy grin and saying, “If I told ya, I’d hafta kill ya.”
If you actually are a student at the school: Don’t join the tour, or if you must, chat up the prospective students, not their adult companions. The longer you stay, the more we adults are thinking, “Doesn’t this kid have somewhere to be? Don’t they do any work here?”
By the way, don’t visit more than two schools in any given day. Even one can be exhausting. This is unless, of course, you are trying to break some kind of zany record. Go here for a pair who visited nine Chicago-area schools consecutively! And all on public transportation — how green!