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Careful With College Tours

Spring and the completion of the college admissions process for this year's senior class brings a change in focus at most schools. With their incoming class assembled, colleges turn their focus to the build of their next class and attracting the best junior year students they can.

For families, warmer weather and vacations in the spring of junior year are traditionally a time to ramp up their focus and visits to the colleges they believe might be a good 'fit' for their students.

Ultimately, students develop opinions based on their college visits that can play a very important role in the college selection process, a role we think families could use some data and perspective on.

Fairly frequently, families are surprised that a school they thought would be a good 'fit' for their student is rejected by their student after a tour. It is worth noting that psychologists highlight that stress and a feeling of lack control can result in a young person rejecting an idea. In an April, 26, 2017 New York Times article entitled 'Skipping the College Tour' , Daniel Kahneman's 'Thinking, Fast and Slow' is highlighted, as is the idea that things like weather and tour guides can play a disproportionately large role in how a student feels about a school after a tour. The potential impact of a tour guide is also mentioned in a November 2022 survey. In brief, inclement weather, stress and a bad tour guide can make a good fit college seem bad to many students.

2022 surveys by EDventures and Inside Higher Ed that include thousands of respondents provide some perspective. In both surveys, while campus environment and campus 'look and feel' are mentioned, they fall outside of the top 5 reasons for selecting a college . Reasons that matter when students and their families are making less emotional decisions are affordability, existence of desired programs, reputation, quality of desired programs , value for cost and career outcomes (please see our article from Jan, 23, 2023).

The bottom line is that while college tours can be helpful it is important to stay focused on what matters and what the research you have done on a school says. Understand the potential bias and limited utility of a single tour and, if nothing else, if the tour results don't match your work, take the tour again.


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