When going through the college admissions process, it’s easy to become very familiar with the “college campus tour” – an often predictable event with student tour guides walking backward as they point out state-of-the-art facilities, dining halls, and dorms.  After a third campus visit, however, the tours might start to blend together.  What made College A different College B?  or College C?  Can’t remember?

Well, I can guarantee that if you experienced College A on a seven-person bike there would be no question of remembering that particular college tour.  Alfred University in Alfred, New York, would agree.  Alfred University is part of a movement in higher education focused on providing a more authentic campus visit for prospective students.  The objective is to demonstrate a school’s unique community in a memorable way.  But if seeing a campus by bike is too boisterous for you, maybe touring by boat is more your speed.  Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, provides visitors a unique view of its campus from Boca Ciega Bay with a tour by boat on select Friday afternoons.  At West Virginia University, visitors can explore campus through the Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) system, a train-like system connecting campus and the downtown area.

But different modes of transportation are not the only way to experience a campus; sharing traditions and experiences unique to a college itself is an important part.  During a visit to Ohio State University, visitors have the chance to sample buckeyes, a chocolate and peanut butter candy, and at the University of Louisville, prospective students are tasked with spotting the albino squirrel on campus during the tour.

There is no doubt that campus visits are evolving — from personalized parking spaces to eight-passenger golf carts driven by tour guides — admission offices are realizing that a visitor’s overall experience is more influential in securing an enrollment than a trained tour guide spouting facts and figures on a scripted tour.  Don’t let the picture with the mascot or the chance to sign your name on a wall make you forget your mission, to see if that college is the best fit for you.  And remember to go easy on the tour guide walking backward – not everyone is ready to move forward.