We are thick in the throes of college application season and a big part of the process involves going on college tours. Colleges sometimes gauge a student’s interest by whether he or she has made the effort to see the campus. As we wrote last year, this is sometimes a tedious process ― especially when you run into one of these people.
1. The parent who always needs to ask the first question.
You know the guy. He and his wife sit in the front row of the information session and he pushes his way forward so that he can stand next to the guide on the campus tour. It wouldn’t so bad if this dad actually did a little homework before arriving on campus. Invariably, his questions are about things that are readily accessed on the school’s website, and for those of us who have actually spent time on said website, well, Mr. I’m Asking First is just wasting our time. Any parent who asks “What GPA and SAT do you need to get in here?” needs to go back and repeat Understanding the College Process 101.
2. The know-it-all parent.
This is the parent who wants to answer questions for the tour guide. He either graduated from the school (making his information hideously out-of-date) or always wanted to go there and is now living vicariously through his child. “Do they still TP the quad every Halloween like we did in 1978?” is not a question any college-bound kid wants to hear his father ask.
The know-it-all parent also may have an older student already at this school and speaks up primarily to show how much she knows about the place. “You need quarters for the dorm laundry and forget trying to use it on Fridays,” she helpfully volunteers, making you wish you had a sock handy to stick in her mouth ― a dirty sock. While this may be charming information to have, it isn’t a deal-breaker issue when it comes down to applying to this school. Does she really think we’re going to run to the bank right after the tour and stock up on rolls of quarters for future laundry needs?
3. The parent from another planet.
This parent marches to the beat of a different drummer. When you tour the fancy new athletic and fitness center with the state-of-the-art rock-climbing wall, he’s more fascinated by the hand-print ID scanner that opens the gate. When the tour guide says the cafeteria is closed from 3 to 5 p.m. to prepare for dinner service, he immediately asks “What time is dinner?” Why?
The things that seem important to this parent seem minuscule and off-the-mark. He wants to know if there is a shuttle to take students to the airport to come home for winter break and if it’s free. One Parent From Another Planet asked our tour guide whether the campus nurse charged a higher copay if you needed to see her over the weekend.
4. The parent who humble brags throughout the tour.
She wants to be sure that everyone knows how overqualified her student is. She asks if her daughter still needs to audition for the music program or can she just send in a video of her Carnegie Hall performance? Or will her son’s 12 AP classes aced in high school all count for college credit? What about the charity her son started as a freshmen that just reached its $1 million mark; where on the application should that go?
There was one tour where, through the powers of deduction, we believe a mom was there without the actual potential student. Maybe her kid just couldn’t handle it anymore. Us either.
5. The uninformed student tour guide.
Your kid’s impressions of a school are shaped by several unimportant things: the weather on the day of your visit, whether she slept well the night before, and whether she liked the student tour guide. Given the huge role that student tour guides play in determining those impressions, it is mind-boggling that colleges don’t screen and train them better.
Broadly speaking, our guides make two big mistakes: They don’t know the answers to questions they should and they aren’t always mindful of the impression they leave with the stories they tell.
We had a tour guide for a school in California say that the reason for the school’s abysmal four-year graduation rate was that students were just having too much fun living near the beach. Really? State budget cuts have impacted all public schools in this state, including the inland ones. Students can’t get the classes they need to graduate on time, so it takes longer ― even when the surf isn’t up. The guide also kept repeating how great it was that you could take paddle-boarding lessons for credit but he didn’t know if you got credit for studying abroad.
While he may have been playing music to the ears of a few potential students on the tour, parents were mentally crossing this school off their list of places they were willing to pay for. When we ran into a family from this group touring another school in the area, the Mom asked me “Did you even hear him mention ‘community service’?” No, I hadn’t.
6. The one student in the group who asks this question.
“What is the job placement/graduate school rate for your graduates six months out?”
It’s a loaded question that frames the discussion about whether this college offers a good return on your investment. Will you be able to find a job once this is over? In the simplest of terms: Is this college worth it?
And why is that kid so annoying? Primarily because he isn’t yours.