Deans and students evaluate changes in school-sponsored college tour

By Lara Sokoloff

This year’s Spring Break college tours did not include a Northeast tour for the first time, Upper School Dean Jon Wimbish said. The school instead offered a Southern tour and a Midwest tour, both tours that had been offered in past years, but never together.

“We have a lot of kids that do what we call the ‘I-95’ tour, which is pretty easily replicated because it’s not far from Boston to New York,” Wimbish said. “In the trips that we did, where we covered so many miles while still retaining what we like about college tours, in that we covered public, private, large, small, liberal arts, pre-professional, urban and rural schools, they were not easily, if at all, replicable.” Upper School Dean Vanna Cairns agreed that the school tour was essentially impossible for families to do on their own.

“Families can do Boston and New York on their own…there’s just so much to see there,” she said. “But the variety and the distances we traveled, families could and would not duplicate.”

Cairns also added that the tours included places that many students could be admitted. The tours did include some highly selective schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown, Duke and Northwestern, Cairns said, but she no longer sees the point in including Harvard and Yale on the school tours.

“If students are interested, they should look on their own with their families,” she said. “We thought that [our list of colleges] was serving the greater good.”

Both Cairns and Wimbish agreed that the deans are constantly looking to broaden the scope of applications.

“Our students in general have some preconceived notions about the south, in particular,” Wimbish said. “Seeing three schools in North Carolina, three in Virginia, one in Georgia and one in Tennessee really showed them that although these schools are in the south, they aren’t necessarily regional places where everyone is from the south. The people there are well educated, and the students and the professors come from all over.” Wimbish said that many students were “pleasantly surprised,” and he would not be surprised to see an increase in applications to the schools that were seen.

“People often apply without having seen places like Vanderbilt or Emory,” he said. “They hear about them and read about them in the Fiske guide, but they never actually go there. Those are schools that might be number one on someone’s list had they seen them, but might be just another one added to the 50-50 list because they haven’t seen it.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see more applications to the schools that we saw, but I also don’t think the New England schools will suffer,” Wimbish said.

Tess Winebaum ’12 and Jamie West ’12 attended the Midwest and the Southern tours, respectively. Both were drawn to the variety that the school tours provided, and felt that it allowed them to get a better sense of what kind of school they could see themselves at, they said.

Both also agreed that the meeting Harvard-Westlake alumni at these schools was the biggest benefit of the tour.

“My favorite part was meeting with the alumni from each school because they were able to explain their transition from Harvard-Westlake to their current school,” West said.

However, both agreed that the length and scope of the tours was exhausting.

Both Cairns and Wimbish commented that there was talk of extending the tours to start in New York and include some of the schools in Upstate New York. However, Cairns predicts that they will not include the highly selective schools ever again.

“I think we’re sold on what we did this year,” she said. “There’s just no reason that we can think of to do Boston and New York ever again.”