During my four years at MIT, I would enjoy occasionally giving tours to prospective MIT students. It reminded me of when I was in their shoes, looking at potential colleges back in high school. My parents dragged me across the country and I honestly felt disinterested on tours when the tour guides would just recite random facts every time they stopped to talk. But I was a tough cookie to satisfy. I hadn’t even begun applying not to mention knowing if I could even be accepted and that affected the way I looked at colleges.
Because of those experiences, I gravitated toward the admissions office during my first year at MIT and became a tour guide, hoping that I could think of new ways to engage listeners like myself who weren’t particularly interested in colleges back then. But it turned out to be a very difficult task — which made it so fun. After 2 years, I still don’t think I’ve perfected my tour, and if I gave my past self a tour right now, I’d probably give myself only a mediocre pat on the back.
However through these experiences, I realized that a lot of ‘advice’ my parents and I had about how tours turned out to be wrong. Here are some thoughts that turned out to be wrong:
“I should give a good impression to my tour guide so it helps my admissions chances”
I remember when my mother would say: “you have to introduce yourself to the tour guide/admissions officer!”. While it is nice and fun to learn about people, it doesn’t help in the actual admissions part of it. However, I still wish I smiled more and asked more questions on my tours. When people don’t show any emotion on my tours, I just end up following my usual script. But I don’t want to talk about things readily found online, I want to talk about things that interest both you and me. That way I can learn something new, and also potentially help you figure out if MIT is somewhere you want to live for 4 years. So really a good impression just helps make the tour more enjoyable and relatable. But it doesn’t help admissions. I have never gone to an admissions officer and said: “I met so and so on my tour, let’s get him/her in.”
“Wow my tour was so bad and my tour guide was weird.” “Are all students [from this college] like this?”
Sometimes people mess up — actually if you’re like me, you probably mess up more than usual. Everyone has stressful weeks at MIT and it can leak into other parts of our lives. I’m not *that* weird and antisocial. But hear me out: when your audience gives no visual or audible feedback on how you’re doing, there’s no way it’s a fun experience for us either.
Sidenote: I was amazed by the diversity of clubs tour guides have. We’re a part of many different things and also enjoyed our college years differently from each other.
“Is that true?”
Fun fact! Some facts just aren’t facts. Good thing most people don’t remember facts because I’ve definitely told some factually incorrect claims. While in most cases it’s just the stories that get embellished to the point that the truth becomes hard to verify, one ‘fact’ I told was that there was a sculpture whose main purpose was to block the wind from the Charles River. That was very wrong.
“I’m never going to get into this college so I’m not going to apply”
It’s the luck of the draw. I’ve seen amazing people who didn’t go to national competitions in math and science that got in. The way colleges choose students is still a mystery to me cause it seems like everyone has the potential to do well here.
As a tour guide, you can influence how other people view MIT and whether or not they eventually apply. I think it’s important to show that MIT is an awesome place to spend 4 years at and we’re not just that tech school next to Harvard (haha what a fun way to describe it). That’s because surprisingly many students still remember their tours on different campuses and thus have a lasting impact on everyone!
However, now that the world has gone virtual, tours are a lot less personable, often feeling like another zoom call that you have to listen to… I’m just hoping it’ll be back in person soon.
But if you want to be a tour guide… click here to learn more!
If I would do if I did it over again:
I’m pretty happy I did tours. It was a great experience and I would never have substituted it for another activity. I’ve also been on a quest to meet more prospective swimmers and get them to join the varsity team! However, it seemed like many people who came had already made their mind about sports :|. So I kinda wish I gave tours to people over the summer where they had more uncertainty on their decision to continue with sports in college.