Creating Campus Tours That Don’t Suck…Through Play

Jeff Harry
9 min readAug 18, 2019


Why can’t every college tour be this honest? It’s amazing how this video captures the generic quality of a college tour so well.

Dear College Admissions Department,
While on the college campus tour circuit with my nephew, I was astonished by how similar all the tours were. Whether at universities, colleges, public or private institutions, they all seemed like carbon copies of each other. This can’t be beneficial for either your university or the families attending.

So rather than complain, I felt compelled to share suggestions on how to make these campus experiences more dynamic and fun for everyone, including the tour guide. My selfish motivation for writing this is to help make these university tours more palatable for my nephew and me. Because it’s hard asking him, “what campus did you like the most,” and his answer is, they all seem the same to me.

Why should you care to listen? Good question. I play for a living, so I create memorable experiences through fun. Also, each one of these high school students attending your tour represent hundreds of other students back in their hometown. Their experience will shape many other kids’ opinion about your university/college, so any small way you can improve your tour could help tremendously.

So, weighing the pros and cons of reading this:

Worst Case Scenario: You waste 9 minutes perusing through this article.

Best Case Scenario: You find one tip that resonates, which when implemented results in hundreds of additional applications to your school.

So here are my suggestions, broken down into specific categories. All I ask is that if one does strike a cord, you’ll consider it.

Ways To Make Your Campus Tour Not Suck…Through Play

  • Start With Why
  • Focus on Connection
  • Identify What Questions These Students Have
  • Avoid Information Overload
  • Double Down On What Makes Your Campus Unique

Start With Why

“Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Find Out Their Why

You are dealing with nervous, awkward, and downright scared high school students trying to figure out a decision that will affect the direction of their entire lives.

Awkward teenager trying not to be awkward

Addressing that elephant in the room is vital to creating a safe space for these kids to listen to what you have to say. So, start with why:

  • Why are you here?
  • Why are you going to college?
  • What questions would you like answers to, but are too nervous to ask?

Cut right through the BS and talk to them as mature teenagers. Most adults assume high school students don’t know what they want. Showing the respect and the willingness to listen to them speaks volumes. Hearing what they have to say and responding simply with “I understand. I’ve been there,” can go a long way.

Share Your Why

I’m amazed by the amount of tour guides that share their story at the end of the campus tour. That is the toughest time to share who you are because we, as the attendees, are too exhausted to listen. We have been listening to facts, figures, and campus folklore for the past hour. By then, we just want the tour to end.

Let us learn about the person that will be leading us on this campus adventure right from the start. We want you to earn our trust, and that starts by you, the campus tour guide, sharing a vulnerable, non-polished story about yourself.

As for crafting a story that connects, consider Marshall Ganz’s Story of Self, Us, & Now method, combined with Brene Brown’s vulnerability techniques. By sharing openly, you create a safe space for students to do the same.

Focus On Connection

Campus tours are so content heavy, that the tour guide can forget they are talking to human beings and not simply regurgitating information. You have families who might be on their 2nd tour of the day and what they are looking for more than content is connection. Some reason to bring them to the present moment because that is where the fun, unique qualities of your university live. So focus on creating memories of connection.

Welcome Them

Have greeters welcome families when they first come in before the tour starts. High five, hand shake, fist bump, doesn’t matter. Just put in the effort. That first impression of being welcomed matters. It like warm bread at a restaurant. You don’t expect it, yet it’s really nice touch.

Create A Connection Between the Students
When you start the tour, ask the students to step forward and have the parents move back. Have the students introduce themselves to at least one other student because this might be their fellow classmate at your college. Treat it like you do a mini freshmen orientation. Make connections between these kids, either by where they are from, why do they want to go to college, or who desires freedom from their parents. Parents might not like this, but it changes the dynamic to make the tour student focused. Those parents might start seeing their kid in a different light, and those HS students may pay more attention on this tour than Snap Chat for once.

Share Advice That Isn’t Promoting Your College

Avoid The Humble Brag

Would you remember a campus tour where the guide was talking about how phenomenal their college is the entire time or one where the leader shared a piece of advice that is tremendously helpful to you during the college application process?

Connect to students by finding out what they are concerned about during this stressful time. Alleviate some of those concerns by providing advice that isn’t self-serving. Teenagers can smell BS from a mile away.

So hearing an honest perspective is refreshing. That alone makes for a memorable experience. Be willing to sacrifice sharing historical facts about the university for information that is most relevant to those students now.

Connect With The College Students On Campus

If the tour is happening, can you stop random college students and ask them, what is their experience like on campus? Showing that any college student can be approached to talk about the university, says a lot about a place. If that seems like too much, simply ask some of your college students to high five campus tours whenever they see them. You will be known as the school that gives out high fives, which is far more memorable than knowing what year the library was built.

Identify What Questions These Students Have

Many campus tours are 1 to 1.5 hours and you can do a great deal in that amount of time. From the discussions I had with students and parents on these tours, they want to know the following:

  • Why should I go to this school?
  • How do I get into this school?
  • Is this school fun to go to and if so, show me? (Student)
  • How do you keep my kid safe at this school? (Parent)
  • I’m feeling a lot of anxiety about this whole college application process. Do you have any advice on alleviating this? (Student and Parent)

The quicker you can address these questions, the more these families will care to listen to you. Also, try to answer the questions these families are too scared to ask.

  • It seems like everyone else knows what they are going to major in, but I have no idea. Can I get in even if I don’t know what I want to do?
  • These essay prompts ask for my biggest accomplishments in life. What should I say, if I don’t think I have any?
  • My grades and test scores are considerably lower than what is required. Do I still have a chance?
  • I’m worried my child will party way too much, and get behind or worse. Is this a valid concern and what can be done about this?

Being able to address concerns of students and parents and tell them they are going to be okay can be the greatest gift they can receive on one of these tours. Instead of feeling like they need to impress your admissions office, they can be real. And that is rare experience to have.

Avoid Information Overload

This may be hard to hear, but most students do not care when a certain building was constructed or the riveting story of how the university got their mascot name. Go on one of your own campus tours and see how much information you are able to retain without pen and paper. With so much information packed in, many families end up not being able to decipher between what’s important and what’s not relevant. Ask your families at the end of the tour what do they remember and see if the points you wanted to make are remembered. If you want to incentivize high school students for listening, give out university swag for whoever can answer certain questions in the end, which reinforces what you want them to take away.

Double Down On What Makes Your Campus Unique

Show, Don’t Tell. Identify what is unique about your school and let it shine.

What is your campus most known for. If you have one of the top chem labs in the country, show us. You boast one of the best college football teams, ensure part of the tour takes us on the field. Harvard has its iconic water pump. UC Berkeley has students playing the Piano outside. UT Texas has their massive stadium. Highlight some aspect of your college that makes you different that people can actually experience. If you can create a memory that is worthy of that high school student’s Instagram account, you not only make them a fan, but every one of their friends that is following them.

Utilize The Talent On Your Campus

In New York, there is a tour called The Ride where people sit on a bus and random performers pop out on various blocks throughout the city. It’s spontaneous, fun, and corny.

With so many clubs, organizations, ,and talented people on campus, how come admission offices have not taken advantage of this resource more on tours with pop-up performances?

You won’t be able to get the entire Acapella group to sing during the day, but you may find a few willing to sing on the quad. Actors from the drama department can perform for new audiences, the Capoeira club could be persuaded to practicing outside, or you simply could ask students do a slow motion dance party whenever the tour passes by. Yes, it’ll take some coordination and won’t always work, but just imagine the fun atmosphere you’ll be creating. Ask your clubs and fraternal organizations to pitch ideas on what they would like to highlight, explain that they get an audience to do it, and you are bound to get some good ideas, as well as some crazy ones.

Don’t talk about school pride, but show it. If you are worried about one of these groups doing something that doesn’t represent the values of your university, have faith that your clubs have good intentions, want what you want, and take the risk. Don’t choose to play it safe, as you risk losing the opportunity to show who you are as a college campus.

Why Go Through All This Trouble To Change?

Think about the reasons why you chose to go to your college. Some of the reasons were arbitrary. You had a memorable experience that persuaded you this was the right school for you. Create opportunities for these high school students to have these epiphanies. They will only know if this campus is the right fit for them if you allow them to truly see who you are. So, if you are willing to take risks to achieve this, you will be remembered by high school students as the one tour that was “actually interesting.”

That’s pretty high praise coming from this generation.

For admissions staff that are thinking, parents need more advice than we do, I got you.

Here is an article for parents providing them with one tip on helping their child find the right college.



Jeff Harry

Workplace Positive Psychology Play Whisperer / Helping Fortune 500 Companies Build Psychologically Safe Workspaces Through Positive Psychology & Play