My daughter is a high school junior, so we have started to visit colleges that she might be interested in attending. I’ve enjoyed the visits, and I’ve found the admissions staff and the student guides to be helpful, informative, enthusiastic, and so on. It’s just what you’d expect from people who are trying to promote their product.
But there’s one area in which I’ve been very surprised at how indifferent colleges are to their target audiences of high schoolers and their parents. The colleges take breaks of two weeks or more during which they do not offer any form of in-person admissions advice or tours. We encountered this phenomenon as we drove through the South during the Christmas break and passed within 20 miles of several colleges that are on my daughter’s wish list. (We drove from the Washington, DC, area to Atlanta.)
Students were on vacation, of course. And staff would be expected to take some downtime during the holidays, too. But the schools were basically locked and boarded up from about December 20 to well into January. For example, my daughter is interested in Clemson University in Clemson, SC. A few days after Christmas, we took a detour from the highway to visit the campus, even though we knew it wasn’t open for business. We drove and walked for about an hour, and we saw perhaps 10 people on the beautiful campus. Not a building was open. Even the bike racks were empty.
Now, think about this for a moment. Schools are trying to convince us to “purchase” a product that costs as much as a luxury car or a town home in many parts of the country. Yet, they are completely shut down for weeks at a time, right when we are likely to have the time to shop. It’s shocking.
Clemson is about a 9-hour drive from our house. Other Southern schools on my daughter’s wish list are a 5- or 6-hour drive from our home. Given the distances, we wouldn’t just casually decide to visit them on a Saturday afternoon. So at a time when we were traveling anyway (we and millions of others), it would have been convenient to be able to have a full visit at these schools, even if students were not on campus.
My recommendation is that school admission departments have a skeleton staff available to do tours during the holiday break. One tour a day would be sufficient, accompanied by a guard who can unlock doors for a quick walk through key buildings.
Not only would it be greatly appreciated, but it might induce a few more applicants. And before anyone in admissions cries hardship, I’d note that every other business seems to find a way to operate through the holidays, even if it’s at a reduced schedule. My local YMCA, which surely pays its staff far less than does a university, can operate every day but Christmas. Why can’t a university’s admissions department?