The WSJ has an editorial on college tours, wherein they talk about the sameness (and lameness) of most college tours.
Most colleges offer both an information session and a tour. We always found the tour, given by students, more useful than information sessions given by the admission department. I came to hate the information sessions in large part because the Q&A seems to be dominated by type A helicopter parents worried that Johnny won't get into Yale because he forgot to turn in an art project in 3rd grade.
My kids and I developed a joke a couple of years ago about information sessions, in which we summarize them in one sentence. So here it is:
"We are unique in the exact same ways that every other college you visit says they are unique."
Examples: We are unique because we have a sustainability program, because we have small class sizes, because our dining plans are flexible, because we don't just look at SAT scores in admissions, because our students participate in research, because our Juniors go abroad, etc. etc.
There you go. You can now skip the information session and go right to the tour. Actually, there is a (very) short checklist of real differences. The ones I can remember off hand are:
- Does the school have required courses / distribution requirements or not
- Is admissions need blind or not
- Is financial aid in the form of grants or loans
- Do they require standardized tests or not, and which ones
- If they do, do they superscore or not
- Do they use the common app, and if so do they require a supplement
- Do they require an interview or not
My advice for tour givers (and I can speak from some experience having gone on about 20 and having actually conducted them at my college) is to include a lot of anecdotes that give the school some character. I particularly remember the Wesleyan story about Joss Whedon's old dorm looking out over a small cemetery and the role this may have played in the development of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The biggest fail on most tours is many don't show a typical dorm room, the #1 thing the vast majority of prospective admits want to see.