Marketplace: Taking time to smell the university roses
September 22, 2009
Choosing a college or university may be the most important decision a young person has ever made and can be one of the most important they’ll ever make. Not only will it determine how their young-adult years go, but can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000.
That’s why mother-daughter team Debbie and Lindsay Marshall don’t think anyone should make that decision on reputation alone. Students should experience the sights, sounds and smell of prospective schools.
Lindsay isn’t shy about admitting she changed schools three times. To be happy, a student needs to like the program, the campus, and the town. If anyone of those is amiss, it’s hard to get the most of the experience, she explained.
Every time she moved it was expensive and stressful. Now that she’s got a sheep skin in tourism management, she’d like to use her personal and professional experience to help teenagers avoid her mistakes by visiting schools.
Her mother has been involved with education from the elementary to university level most of her life. She also knows from personal experience how different campuses and college towns are. Gothic architecture at one might be inspiring to some students while depressing and restrictive to others. And no matter how good a school is, students need fun places to visit and hang out to unwind.
The two started American University Tours. Starting in 2010, they’ll take groups of 20 to 30 teenagers and their parents on weeklong tours of either the Northeast, Southeast or California visiting about nine public and private schools on each tour.
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"They’re making a big investment and they need it to be what they hoped it would be," Lindsay said.
Getting into a great school is so competitive, Debbie pointed out, that many times it’s a one-shot deal. If a student knows early on where they want to go, they can cater their entire high school career to pleasing admission officers at their dream school.
And if teenagers have an end-goal in mind, Lindsay said, it’s easier for them to be motivated to work toward that ambitious goal. Some kids might not seem that interested in higher education, but once they get a taste of what that lifestyle will be like, sometimes they change and are willing to do anything to get in.
The tours are offered year-round and are designed to be as useful as possible. If several participants are considering the same major, the Marshalls can arrange for professors in that major to meet with the group at every campus. If a majority is interested in the sciences, they can arrange for the group to tour labs. Special requests for campuses not included in the tour but along the way can be considered.
The goal is for the group to have a half-day at every school, Debbie explained. Lindsay arranges all the ground transportation, lodging and day-to-day needs. All families need to do is book flights.
In addition to Park City families, the Marshalls also believe their product is ideal for foreign students. People in Australia, China, Japan and Europe don’t have an idea how American schools work and what college life is like here.
Students interested in a tour who are also adept with social media are encouraged to check out a contest that will be posted on the company’s website by the end of the month. The Marshalls will give away three tours to college-bound students who tell the most of their friends about the tours through Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
American University Tours
Lindsay and Debbie Marshall