In addition to taking a walking tour of a college campus, why not boat, bike or drive around campus? As colleges try to attract more prospective students and families to their campuses, they are enhancing their tours to make them memorable experiences that stand out from other college campuses.
Jeff Kallay, vice president of consulting for TargetX, a college consulting firm, says colleges need to be sure they are showing prospective students what it is really like to be on their campus. "What kids really want on a college tour is an authentic and real college experience," he says.
U.S. News spoke with eight colleges and universities from across the country that have created different campus tours in addition to their walking tours that highlight the aspects of their campuses that make them unique.
[Slide show: Unique College Campus Tours]
Bikes, Boats and Buses
Alfred University, a liberal arts college in Alfred, N.Y., has added an unusual bike to complement its self-described "quirky" student community. Last fall, with the guidance of Kallay with TargetX, the school purchased a conference bike built for seven people to add as a supplement to its traditional walking tour. With the tour guide manning the steering and braking, all seven aboard sit in a circle facing each other and are tasked with pedaling around the relatively hilly Western New York campus. "You just can't help but smile when you see the bike go by because everyone on the bike is smiling," says Jodi Bailey, Alfred's director of marketing. "It's fun and memorable. The bike is one way we can stick out in visitors' minds." Check out a video of the bike.
The entire Alfred community has been receptive to the bike, with the college president being one of the first to ride. "The bike is a really good representation of Alfred," says Logan Goulett, a tour guide and senior at Alfred. "The students here are very innovative and creative and the bike is a conglomeration of everything we are at Alfred." Students and professors are also invited to hop on the bike if there's an open seat and chat with prospective students and families about their Alfred experience, Goulett says. Those who take the 20 minute biking tour across the main quad of campus get a "Tour Hard" T-shirt. "Almost everyone who is serious about Alfred is serious about the bike," Goulett says.
Eckerd College, a liberal arts college in St. Petersburg, Fla., also offers a biking tour to help cover its 188-acre campus more quickly. A student tour guide leads prospective students using bikes from the school's "Yellow Bike" program—the campus's bike sharing system—for an hour-long tour across campus, with stops at buildings along the way. In addition, prospective students can take a boating tour next to the 1 1/4 mile of campus that lies along the Boca Ciego Bay, says John Sullivan, Eckerd's dean of admission and financial aid. In this 30-minute tour, a student guide talks about the school's history and its marine science and environmental science programs.
While visitors can boat and bike around Eckerd, at West Virginia University prospective students can take a three-hour bus and walking tour of its three campuses. Visitors board a bus at the visitor center and travel to downtown Morgantown to tour the town and the school's main liberal arts campus. Then they board again to drive past the health and science campus to the Evansdale campus that is home to the major-specific classes, wherein students visit a residence hall and get a beverage at a dining hall, says Danica Wilburn, the school's visitors resource center director. Before or after tours, visitors can also ride the school's PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) monorail, which connects the campuses.
Golf Carts and GPS
Other schools offer golf cart tours in order for prospective students and families to see more of their expansive campuses. Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah, offers only golf cart tours to help cover its 560 acre campus in the foothills of the Wasatch Mountains. "The golf cart tour has been commissioned to give the personalized tour to each family, showing the academic side of campus," says Jacob Hicks, the campus visits manager of the school. He says the tour guides are "BYU experts" who are "very personable, warm and gracious, and are wonderful at meeting the needs of prospective students." He says the school has fewer visitors due to the smaller and unique population that visits the college run by the Mormon Church. Occasionally, tour guides will lead walking tours if groups are too large for the golf carts.
Birmingham-Southern College, a liberal arts college in Birmingham, Ala., also offers golf cart tours on what they call "GEM Cars," or Global Electric Motorcars, to help visitors see areas of the school's 200 acres that aren't part of the walking tour. These areas include the athletic facilities, a newly created lake, and several residence halls. The tours are personalized to the prospective students, says Tyler Peterson, the school's director of recruitment.
Some colleges are utilizing their strong technology programs to enhance their walking tours of campus. California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, offers a downloadable iPhone app of a self-guided campus walking tour. Cal Poly also was the first to create a GPS device, called the GPS Ranger, which prospective students, families and even current students, can check out at the visitor center. The device shows your location on a campus map and displays short video descriptions narrated by students about specific buildings on campus when you approach them. Jim Maraviglia, the assistant vice president for admissions, says there has been a steady stream of use of the devices, and new videos are being created for the device specific to each college on campus. Check out a demo of the GPS Ranger.
[Read about our college road trips.]
David Knapp, a senior at Cal Poly, enjoyed using the GPS Ranger to tour campus. "It felt like a customized tour that you are able to do at your own pace." Knapp says the tour was very comprehensive. "It really hit all of the information points on campus, so I think it would be helpful for prospective students. It gave you the formal information, and it also gave a little bit more customized information from a student's viewpoint."
Stanford University, another school that offers a self-guided campus walking tour iPhone app, also offers golf cart tours, which enable prospective students and families to see parts of its 8,200 acre campus that aren't covered in walking tours. Students visit the Red Barn, the campus's equestrian center; the Cantor Arts Center, the art museum on campus; and the athletics facility. Director of Visitor Relations John Friesman, says the golf cart tours cost $5 and visitors should sign up online prior to the visit.
Another way schools are making their campus tours stand out is by giving out memorabilia. West Virginia University's campus tour ends on a sweet note with a WV logo cookie given to each visitor, Wilburn says. At Ohio State University, each student receives a buckeye candy, made of chocolate and peanut butter, at the end of the tour in honor of the school's buckeye mascot. Admitted students can get their photo taken with mascot Brutus Buckeye on the beginning of the tour; the student gets a frame with the photo at the tour's end. "With this photo we are creating a memory," says Jill Hampshire, senior assistant director of visitor relations at the school. "When a student is able to take a photo home with them, it lasts way beyond their visit here."
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of America's Best Colleges.