spirit of brown

the eccentricities of brown campus tours

I only went on one campus tour during the college application season. I don’t remember much from it except the humid heat of mid-July and how our tour guide managed to mention at every stop how amazing the school’s Greek life was. “I never saw myself being part of a sorority, but now I can’t imagine myself without it,” she said as I rolled my eyes. It goes without saying that I wasn’t impressed with the school and did not apply. My decision shows just how impactful a campus tour can be to prospective students. Brown campus tours are getting increasingly busy with the beginning of spring and the admittance of 2,566 students to the Class of 2022, and tour guides are taxed with highlighting the implicit qualities of its campus atmosphere and attract prospective students.

Brown currently provides four different types of tours for prospective students: the general campus tour, the engineering tour, the physical sciences tour, and the sustainability tour. The campus tour is managed by the Brown Bruin Club, a student organization associated with the Office of College Admission that oversees all prospective students’ needs. The engineering tour is managed by the Department of Engineering and gives an overview of what it’s like to study engineering at Brown, allowing prospective students to talk to current engineering concentrators and visit classrooms and lab spaces. The physical sciences tour visits similar spaces, but highlights computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, math, applied math, geology, and environmental science. The sustainability tour is the newest offering: Provided by the Brown Office of Energy and Environmental Initiatives, it shows prospective students the sustainability initiatives at Brown, including compost and recycling, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) buildings, and alternative living options.

Every university has a unique approach for how it presents its campus on tours. Brown’s approach begins with the competitive application process for tour guides. Aspiring and returning tour guides must be interviewed at the beginning of every semester. In the interview, each applicant gives a mock tour guide introduction and answers a few situational questions that could come up on tour. Interestingly, while most schools pay their students to be tour guides, Brown students volunteer about an hour of their time each week to lead tours. “I think it speaks to how Brown students are genuinely interested in talking about the school and genuinely love Brown,” explains Cindy Zeng ’20, who has been a tour guide for two semesters. “I think it’s nice that students care so much about the school, and they want to do it anyway because they think it’s really fun.”

The distinctive aspects of Brown campus tours don’t stop with its competitive application process. Ben Ahmad ’20, who has been a tour guide for two semesters, explains that prospective students are not assigned a tour guide when they visit. Instead, families hear the tour guides’ intros and choose whom to follow: “Basically, we say that it’s in the ‘spirit of Brown’ because you have freedom of choice.” In addition, Ahmad also describes how campus tours do not focus on the history of Brown: “I’ve noticed that when I went on other tours at other schools, they spent a lot of time on that. And I don’t really think we do because honestly people can get really bored by it.”

This non-traditional approach to campus tours has an impact not only on the prospective students but also the tour guides. For Zeng, she loves how campus tours give her the chance to take a break from her work and to walk around campus. The relaxed atmosphere also allows her to tell a few jokes and get a few laughs out of the audience. For example, she tells her tour groups, “The urban legend of the Soldier’s Arch is that if you kiss your partner underneath it, you will both be married. But the legend doesn’t specify who you will be married to.” Zeng says, “At that point everyone laughs, and it’s really great.” For other guides, leading campus tours can be a humbling learning experience. Ahmad says, “It makes me realize how privileged I am to be here because I really think you can take that for granted, and it also makes me love Brown more every time I talk about it.”

While campus tours can be refreshing for both prospective students and tour guides, they do come with a few challenges. One is how to handle tricky questions that prospective students ask, like what current students typically do on the weekends. “What I found is that you want to be honest,” Ahmad explained. “But the best way to frame the honesty is to give a balanced perspective.”

While tour guides may struggle to navigate new situations on the spot, each tour session also comes with pleasant surprises. On one of Ahmad’s tours, Harrison Ford made an unexpected appearance, while one of Zeng’s tours was thrown off by something much more ordinary. “One time, I was giving a segment outside of the Ratty,” Zeng described, “And one of my friends was with her friends, and they all started cheering, so I got pretty flustered.”

Furthermore, prospective students can get a more in-depth experience at Brown with A Day On College Hill (ADOCH), and this year’s new policies have made the atmosphere even more welcoming than in the past. Instead of hosting admitted students for just one weekend, ADOCH will be offered twice in order to allow more flexibility for admitted students’ schedules and give more people the chance to see the campus. In addition, Early Decision admitted students are allowed to come to ADOCH this year, which allows everyone to have the chance to gain a sense of how they will fit with the school culture. Additionally, students this year will be placed into “units” for the weekend so that they can develop a network even before they begin their first semester.

Through non-traditional approaches, Brown has allowed prospective students to comprehensively experience student culture and imagine themselves on campus. Brown’s campus tours, online resources, and events allow current students to reach out to prospective students and reflect on how their time at Brown has impacted them.