The University offered its first in-person campus tours since March 2020 last week, bringing back a staple of the college process and marking another step toward the Office of Admission’s return to normalcy.
Tours look different than they did in March 2020, mostly due to health and safety requirements instituted in response to COVID-19. Groups are now limited to 26 tour goers with just one guide. Visitors now wear wristbands, which indicate that they’re signed up for the tour, and masks, regardless of vaccination status. Guides, also masked, now speak into microphones, minimizing the need to shout.
But beyond those changes, the content and route of the tour are largely the same, tour coordinator Josh Neronha ’22 said. And on his Friday afternoon tour — just the second he had given since they resumed — the familiar rituals of a tour all appeared. A small line of parents and students followed Neronha two-by-two from the Quiet Green to the Main Green, and from Ruth J. Simmons Quad to the Sciences Quad. Gathering in clumps at each spot, they took meticulous notes — and shared knowing glances — as Neronha discussed housing, food, academics, athletics, campus safety and a litany of other subjects. And, between stops, a student would catch Neronha at the front of the line, checking in with a specific question.
“After doing virtual tours for a year and a half, it’s so nice to be back talking with people,” Neronha said. “Seeing people’s faces and answering questions, it’s a level of connection that I personally think is hard to get virtually.”
Neronha also added information about the Open Curriculum to his tour that he hadn’t provided in years past — in part, he said, because in-person University information sessions have yet to return, instead remaining in an online format that he described as “less risky” than putting 50 people in a room.
Other virtual programming also remains available, such as virtual tours and live Q&As — an addition to admissions outreach that Dean of Admission Logan Powell has previously stressed is very important.
The University does not measure “demonstrated interest” while reviewing applications, such as whether or not a student visited campus, according to the Office of Admission’s website.
On the route, only two key differences were apparent: Groups did not enter Sayles Hall as they would have in the past, and on Simmons Quad, the group stood on the plot of grass where Untitled (Lamp/Bear) — a former stop on the tour commonly known as Blueno — once stood. Neronha said his opinions are mixed: The new space makes the tour stop easier, but he doesn’t know whether or not to explain the significance of the patch of grass.
“Do I take time to explain that Blueno used to be here — that there was this random blue bear that you don’t really care about, but I’ll tell you anyway? Or do I just not say anything?” he wondered. He admitted that he was leaning toward the latter option, but still wanted to “properly memorialize” Blueno somehow.
Charlotte Sandford, a high school senior from New York City who joined the tour, said the return to in-person tours improved her ability to get a sense of a school. Her trip to College Hill was the first official college tour she had taken; she had visited other schools, but had to rely on current first-years she knew from high school to show her around. The expertise that a senior brought to the tour, she said, made a difference in the information she gained.
Eric Wolfsdorf, a high school senior from Los Angeles, said that he also enjoyed the tour and learning about the “ins and outs” of the University, down to the details of where students study, eat and live.
“Brown is a warm environment with lots of people who are willing to reach out and help,” he noted.
Wolfsdorf said he had been on a number of other tours, two of which were self-guided. “I felt like I learned nothing from that,” he said.
“The tour experience here has been the best,” Sandford added, “because I’ve actually been able to have a tour.”
In-person tours mark one of the first pieces of normalcy in the college process for this year’s class of high school seniors, many of whom started thinking about college in the middle of the pandemic: Sandford said that she had a difficult time accessing standardized testing, and college visits to her high school moved online.
“It’s just different,” Wolfsdorf said, adding that COVID-19 impacted last year’s high school seniors significantly more, but that the disrupted college process is all he has experienced.
Will Kubzansky is the 133rd editor-in-chief and president of the Brown Daily Herald. Previously, he served as a University News editor overseeing the admission & financial aid and staff & student labor beats. In his free time, he plays the guitar and soccer — both poorly.