According to the National Center for Education Statistics, as of 2022 there are 2,500 junior high schools, 13,477 middle schools, 23,900 secondary schools, and 98,755 public schools in the U.S. Plus some 5,000+ colleges and universities. That’s a lot of math, but it basically means that when prospective students and their families are choosing a new school — they have options. And a school or campus tour is one of the best ways to help figure out which option is best prior to enrollment.
A top-notch school tour ultimately depends on two things: the school itself, and the tour guide who gives it. So, whether it’s a one-time virtual small private school visit or large-scale, in-person, daily guided campus tours — we’ve got not 10 but 11 ideas to help your school tour succeed with flying colors.
1. Do Your Homework
For your visitors, you’re the sole representative of your school — at least for the duration of the tour. So make sure to brush up on both its history and background and its day-to-day functions. Talk to staff members, faculty, and current students. Study and take notes on everything from the admissions process to where the admissions office is. From financial aid to special programs and extracurricular activities. From class sizes to courses offered. From dining hall hours to where the nearest bathroom is. And so on. In short, know your subject (i.e., your school) like the back of your hand.
2. Have the Necessary Tools
It’s no secret that schools can get noisy — especially when class is not in session. So, one great way to minimize distractions and enhance your guided tours is with tour headsets. They not only ensure effective communication but also help make the experience more immersive. And a virtual (and/or physical) map, apps, and audio/video enhancements can also help your tour stand out from the rest. Be creative with the tour tools you use. And if your tour is a long one — maybe bring some water bottles and snacks.
3. Have a Plan
Once you know and have your stuff, make a plan. Think about key points to cover — and put them in writing. You don’t have to always stick to the plan. With practice, your tours will evolve and feel more and more like second nature. But it’s always good to more or less know where you’re going — especially when starting out.
4. Make It Interactive and Inclusive
Your group will likely vary from day to day. Prospective families may want to know about the more technical and administrative bits, while visiting students — to glimpse the day-to-day student life. But there may also be other academics, curious tourists, and so on. You want to make it interesting for people who don’t necessarily plan to enroll too. Also keep in mind that not everyone in your group is guaranteed to be tech-savvy. So try to incorporate both digital and non-digital resources. If it’s a school day, visit a classroom or two if you can, and incorporate your colleagues and other students. Read your audience, listen, and be prepared to answer questions of every variety. In short, make sure that, while on your tour, everyone feels they’re a welcome part of your school community.
5. Keep It Fresh
And stay active in the school community — even when not giving tours. Remain in the know about any changes — past, present, and future — be they administrative, academic, or social. Revise your plan often, keep up with the times, and treat each tour as a new experience. This will guarantee that it stays enjoyable and informative for both you and your visitors. And it’ll also ultimately increase the chances of enrollment.
6. Keep It Simple
Once you have a solid idea of where the tour may go, don’t overcomplicate things. Have a plan, know your stuff, keep it fresh— but also be willing to take a step back. Do more listening than talking. You’ll often find that your group will actually do most of the job for you by asking questions. And your job is thereby to just help point people in the right direction — literally and figuratively — with your knowledgeable answers, guidance, flexibility, and charisma.
7. Be Flexible
As you do more tours, you’ll learn to go with your gut, improvise, and adapt. Group sizes, ages, and backgrounds will vary. Administrative and academic procedures will change. Staff, faculty, and students will rotate. And it might rain, or even pour. So be prepared for anything. Flexibility is key when conducting any tour — but this is especially true for a school tour because school life changes fast.
8. Roll With the Punches
And flexibility — along with experience — will help you better deal with the unexpected. For example, the front office may be temporarily closed. Or a last-minute school rally may be happening. Or the Wi-Fi may be down. Or it may be pouring rain. Or all of the above. Moreover, no two group participants are ever the same. And since choosing the right school can be nerve-wracking for everyone involved, prospective parents and students might have some tough questions for you. All this might make it impossible to stick to a plan. Whatever life throws at you, you’ll have to adapt on the spot. So be prepared. And, while it’s always good to have a plan B (and a plan C), it’s also vital that you listen, keep your cool, be honest and transparent, and go with the flow.
Making connections and keeping an open line of communication are as equally important as readiness and flexibility. And this applies both to your tour groups — past, present, and potential — and your school. So be available. For example, it’s a good call to have an active, easy-to-find, and transparent social media presence. Or even a daily blog. And make sure to reach out to fellow staff and faculty members often. Stay up to date on all the latest happenings by sharing ideas. Build bridges, maintain connections, and make sure you feel that you are a responsive and communicative representative of your educational institution at all times.
10. Follow the Rules to Ensure Everyone’s Safety
A first-aid kit is essential to any good tour guide. But the overall concept of safety has changed greatly in recent years too, and schools around the U.S. have been facing increasing challenges since the pandemic. So much so that the NSBA and AASA called for an end to threats and violence surrounding their reopening. So to ensure everyone at your school is safe, you and your group should always be aware of and adhere to the latest rules, regulations, and guidelines that your school has implemented.
11. Follow up
Once your school tour is done, don’t just move on to the next one. If its overall objective is to increase enrollment numbers (and chances are it is), a follow-up with your visitors is essential. This can be as simple as an automated email informing them of what further steps they can take to get to know the school more and/or enroll. Be available to answer any further questions your group might have — both in-person and online. But even if they’re not enrolling, the simple human touch of a digital “thank you” card can go a long way. Following up with your tour group can leave a lasting impression of both you and your school. Because not only will it help establish your reputation as a first-class, professional, caring tour guide, but it will also help your school stand out as a top-rated destination — both for students and the general public alike.