Searching for the Perfect College? Maybe You Should Watch More TV

Kelly M. Rawlings | SmartCollege.Com

Fort Lewis College, Durango Colorado, source Fort Lewis Foundation

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about how one might conduct a college search from the comforts of your own sofa.  The intent was to explore ways for students to conduct meaningful college searches as they were quarantined in their homes due to COVID-19. Virtual college information sessions, scanning college websites, search engines designed specifically for that purpose–what I didn’t know when I wrote that first article was that an exciting new opportunity for touring colleges was about to be unleashed and you can find it on Amazing Prime Video! Read on to find out why I think both college counselors and high school students should be excited about The College Tour…One thing we know about the high school age demographic is that they enjoy watching shows on screens.  They will do it for literally hours. We also know many of their parents have Amazon Prime.  So, just before the Christmas holiday as I was scrolling Facebook (because yes, that’s MY demographic), what to my wondering eyes should appear but a link on a friend’s story to something called “The College Tour.”  On Amazon Prime Video.  Not a college website!

College tours have gone mainstream! Now you can sit on your sofa and watch professionally produced videos on different colleges! The first episode was about Fort Lewis College

I had heard of it, but admittedly knew zilch about it.  At the end of the video, I was convinced my mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, adventure-loving husband who went to college to become an educator had made a poor collegiate choice twenty-something (okay, maybe thirty) years ago. He would agree. But how would he have known about a mid-sized school in Colorado that offered a major in exactly what he would have wanted to teach?  Now, however, a kid in Virginia could watch an episode about a college in Colorado that actually makes you feel like you are right there on campus.  The videos are meaningful and compelling in that all of the information is shared almost exclusively by actual students.  Yes, I’m sure the dialogue is scripted and of course it only shares the “best of,” but that’s what you get on an in-person campus tour anyway.  Only with these videos you get to see more of the campus and the surrounding community than you would on most in-person campus tours. 

They pick students to highlight different aspects of college life – academics, social, athletic, research, career advising, etc.  You learn just a little bit about five or six different students instead of just one tour guide that you’d have on an in-person visit. The format gives more students a chance to identify with someone they see on the screen.  

The producers, Alex Boylan, Lisa Hennessy, and Burton Roberts, know their demographic.  The host, Alex Boylan (yes, the winner of 2002 The Amazing Race), keeps his own commentary to a minimum but introduces each student and topic with enough energy and enthusiasm to make you want to keep watching. 

Each topic is highlighted for about 5 minutes which turns out to be about the attention span of most of the target population. Kids demand professional quality video and production these days.  This is where in-house college-produced virtual tours just can’t compete. While some online virtual tours are physically painful to watch, the videography and pace of delivery makes it difficult to stop watching an episode of The College Tour. 

The videos don’t try to replace an admissions information session.  They don’t list every major offered, harp on rankings, or walk you through the application process. In other words, they don’t rehash information available on a college website.  Instead, it provides just what the title indicates – a College Tour.  It offers a glimpse into the campus, the students, and the personality of each college community.

At one point when I was working at an amazing small, private, women’s college that often struggled to meet its enrollment goals I would find myself thinking, “if we could just get more students to visit…”  A platform such as this would have been a gift.  Looking back, given my background, I could now kick myself for not coming up with the idea myself. Through a short maze of unbelievable connections, I was able to link up with the producers of The College Tour to learn a bit more about how the idea materialized and came to fruition.  Alex Boylan shared, “The idea for The College Tour TV series came to me from my 16 year old niece.  Because of the pandemic and finances,  she wasn’t able to travel to tour colleges. So, using our skills as executive producers we created a series inspired by her and millions of other young people who are interested in attending college.” While the producers’ intent was to provide students with increased access to quality college tours, this new platform also serves as an exciting new opportunity for lesser-known colleges to reach a broader audience and, subsequently, achieve greater success in meeting enrollment targets.  It is truly a win-win for both sides of the desk.

Postscript:  Since watching the first episode and writing this article, I’ve since watched more alongside my 14 year old son who is into anything that flies but not so much into homework. Seeing the students (and planes and rockets) at Florida Tech captivated a 14 year old who has zero interest in a college search right now but was finally able to see a connection between what he enjoys and what he could study in college.  Turns out the target demographic for The College Tour might even be broader than I imagined.