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3 red flags to watch for on a campus tour

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For high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors, fall semester marks a hectic time of campus visits. Individuals flock to institutions across the nation to gather additional information about their various higher education options, but how many arrive with specific attributes to seek and, more importantly, to avoid?

The campus tour is an ideal opportunity to help inform the college or university selection process. But to successfully do so, careful attention must be paid to even the smallest of details. Below are three red flags to note and recall when making the most important decision of your high school career:

1. A disorganized admissions office
When a prospective student demonstrates interest in exploring a college or university via a campus tour, a class observation, or an overnight visit, it is the admissions office’s responsibility to coordinate this experience. For a high percentage of high school-age individuals, the admissions office also represents their first personal (that is, human) interaction with the institution.

It is in the best interests of these departments, then, to impart stellar first impressions. My undergraduate alma mater, the first morning I set foot on its campus for a tour, matched my parents and me with a guide who was active on the campus newspaper – my primary extracurricular interest at the college level. My guide was also prompt and professionally dressed. With one single person, the admissions office presented a vision of a university that functioned smoothly.

While appearances can be deceiving, disorganized admissions offices often suggest a larger administrative and operational issue. Scattered institutions struggle to meet student needs and are best avoided.

2. An impersonal or uncomfortable experience
For both the college or university in question and the potential attendee, a campus visit is the initial stage in a months-long evaluation process. Make no mistake, however – this process works in both directions. While student responses to questions posed during a tour, as well as visible interest levels, may be noted by a guide, the host institution is likewise under examination.

Or should be. In truth, the average high school student is too timid or too unfamiliar with assessing colleges to recognize their role in the campus tour. Some universities, ever seeking additional methods to compare applicants, take advantage of this and present college visits as an elaborate hoop for individuals to jump through. Pupils are scrutinized from the first moment of interaction to the last.

Promising institutions personalize campus experiences, as my own tour guide did. Promising institutions alter or slow tours as questions emerge. If a college or university appears cold or inflexible, there is little reason to believe they have individuals’ best interests at heart.

3. A willingness to discuss inappropriate subject matter
I vividly recall my first campus tour, during which the guide shared strategies for procuring alcohol as an underage student – before my parents. I did not apply to this university, though I did later laugh at the experience.

Alcohol, drugs, or anything else of that nature should hold no place on campus tours or overnight visits. Student representatives who provide these experiences are partially to blame, but so too is the institution. A willingness to engage in improper behavior may suggest that a college or a university has no or inadequate supports in place to assist pupils in choosing to live a healthy emotional, mental, and physical life.

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