Making the Most of the Campus Tour

For eleven weeks this past summer, I had the privilege of serving as a tour guide for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions and for the Visitor’s Center. Each week, thousands of prospective students and visitors stopped by campus to check out what Yale has to offer and to gain a glimpse into undergraduate student life.

As I led tour group after tour group, I saw pieces of myself in many of the visitors. I remember visiting this campus just two and a half years ago with my father. When I stepped onto campus, I was mesmerized. I could not take my eyes off of the little details of the place: the gargoyles, the stones of each of the buildings, the cathedral-looking library, the scent of the summer air in New Haven. More than mesmerized, I was overwhelmed.

Before touring of around half a dozen universities, I remember my high school guidance counselor providing me with two pieces of advice:

1. Take notes.

2. Take pictures.

Both suggestions proved to be very helpful – when I went to sit down at my computer to start filling out application after application, I glanced back at the photographs I had taken. I skimmed through my notes to find out what happened at each university two and three hundred years ago – facts that I had scribbled down in my withered notebook, pages crinkled from the day it poured but we still decided to take the tour.

Just a few months later, I arrived at Part II of Yale’s supplement: “Why Yale? What in particular about Yale has influenced your decision to apply? Please limit your response to the space provided.”

Below this text were four lines. Four terrifyingly blank lines. My mind was filled with imagery – the scenes I remembered from my campus tour. The buildings, the architecture, the smell, the books, the classrooms, the elm trees, the residential colleges, the constant motion of the university. And all of the unknowns that every high school senior feels.

I went to bed that night feeling pretty discouraged. “Four lines!” I screamed inside. Days later, I came back to my Yale supplement with a newfound sense of purpose. I remembered the reason why Yale struck me in the first place. It wasn’t something I had in any photo or something that I had scribbled down in any line of my ruffled notebook. It was because of our tour guide. Somehow, I felt like I could have befriended him.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go around taking photos of every single campus tour guide you meet. But remember that, in the end, college is not about the gargoyles, the elm trees, the dorm rooms, or the color of the sky. College is about the people you will meet in between the time you spend with your textbooks.

Try not to feel overwhelmed next time you take a campus tour. Remember that the most important part of a the tour is not the facts or the architecture: it’s a chance to help you envision yourself as an undergraduate at Yale.  Be bold: meet someone outside of your tour group and ask whatever comes to mind. Because they had all of the same questions (if not more!) when they were in your shoes, too.