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August 28

3 Tips for Setting Your Campus Tour Apart


College campus tours are an integral part of the prospective student experience, one that can significantly impact their decision to enroll in your school.

But a lot of colleges have a common problem, and that problem is they’re all sharing the same playbook.

In Spring 2023, my co-host Troy Singer and I had a great conversation with marketing legend Guy Kawasaki on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast.

We talked at length about his work with Canva and other exciting innovations popping up, like ChatGPT and other AI tools.

But then, Guy closed out the episode with one of the greatest rants about college campus tours I’ve ever heard.

I highly recommend you listen to the episode so you can appreciate the full context, but this quote pretty much summed up his feelings on how schools were missing the mark:

“You’ve got to think about how you’re unique and valuable as a college… I would like every college admissions director to go on five tours of other colleges. And you will see… you are all saying the same thing.” — Guy Kawasaki

Guy’s words should serve as a clarion call for colleges and universities everywhere.

Your campus tour is an opportunity to showcase your school’s unique qualities and differentiate yourself from the crowd. 

1. Script Your Campus Tour in Your School’s Voice

When you get right down to it, a campus tour is an abridged history of your school. You obviously can’t fit the whole story into a few short hours, so you need to make the most of the time you have.

That’s why you need a plan, one that’s tailored to your campus.

If you’ve read my previous article about inspiring college tours, you undoubtedly noticed an “A” word theme, like “answer” students’ questions and pay “attention” to detail.

I’m going to add one more “A” to that list — be “authentic.”

I think many schools use similar templates for their campus tours because it’s safe. And it’s smart if you’re communicating the exceptional elements of your school through effective student ambassadors.

But instead of crafting a genuine narrative around their college’s unique offerings and culture, schools often recycle the same talking points as everyone else:

  • “Our class sizes average only X students for every faculty member!”
  • “Our professors are always accessible!”
  • “You’re not just a number at our school!”

By no means am I saying you shouldn’t advertise those benefits, but here’s the thing…

Any perk your school leverages in a campus tour is no longer special if everyone is doing it.

So review your talking points and intentional stops and ask, “What value does our prospective student get from this?”

For example, every school has a library. Your guests usually won’t care about facilities and services that are taken for granted.

Focus on locations that are essential to your campus identity and be ready to explain the “why” behind the “what.”

In short… single out the differentiators and exclusive benefits of your school and weave those into your campus tour.

Above all else, you need to anticipate the questions that students and their families will ask about your school.

2. Reinforce Your Brand’s Story on Your Campus Tour

It should be evident that your school is about much more than shiny new buildings and ample parking.

Every college and university is a tapestry of tradition, triumph, and innovation.

For years, I’ve beaten the drum for storytelling as a powerful higher ed content marketing tool. But the truth is that your campus tours are just as ripe a setting for sharing engaging stories about your school.

Here are some ways you can expand on your brand’s narrative during your campus tour:

  • Student and Alumni Stories: Prospective students love hearing from other students. Highlight stories of current students and alumni making a difference through community service, research, or other endeavors.
  • Traditions and Campus Culture: Delight your guests with insight into unique aspects of campus life at your school. Talk about festivals, annual events, and sports rivalries. And highlight social initiatives and student organizations that your school supports.
  • Future Vision: Higher education can be notorious for falling behind as the rest of the world races to keep up with accelerated innovation. So tell your students how your school is evolving academically and technologically to prepare them for the future.

If you give prospective students and their families the big picture of your institution’s past, present, and future journey, you’ll leave a lasting impression.

3. Understand Your Audience and Make Them the Hero

It’s great if your men’s soccer team has won your conference three years running.

But unless the students on your tour are all rabid athletes, they won’t feel a connection to that program.

Each of your prospective students is about to embark on one of the greatest journeys of their lifetime. This experience is a part of their story, so you need to make them the hero.

First, you have to get to know them.

Take some time to ask your guests about their backgrounds and aspirations before they arrive:

  • Are they first-generation college students?
  • What are their career goals?
  • Who do they look up to in their desired field?
  • Do they come from a unique demographic?
  • What clubs, activities, or sports interest them?

You can then use the resulting feedback to tailor your campus tour to each group of prospective students.

For instance, if you discover you’ll be hosting candidates for your software development program, then, by all means, show them around your state-of-the-art computer lab.

But I cannot emphasize this enough…

You need to articulate how your school’s resources will help prospective students achieve their goals.

So be ready to address other out-of-sight or off-campus opportunities like:

  • Scholarships and grants
  • Mentorship programs
  • Internships
  • Networking opportunities
  • Community volunteerism

By making your prospective students the heroes of your campus tour, they can picture their story unfolding at your school in their mind’s eye.

A Distinct Campus Tour Will Help Your School Stand Out From the Crowd

As higher ed marketers, the challenge in campus tours is not just to present your college’s physical highlights but to showcase its distinct personality.

The goal isn’t to be different for the sake of being different but to authentically capture what makes your institution extraordinary.

As Guy Kawasaki said, you must think about what makes you unique.

And if you need help, I’d love to help you maximize your campus tour’s potential.

Reach out today!

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