The Evolution of the Haverford Admissions Tour
In this blog post, Maxwell Champlin ‘25 compares the 1998 Haverford admissions tour to the current tour, using evidence he gathered from a twenty-five-year-old tour guide manual in the College Archives. Max was the Quaker & Special Collections Liaison and Documenting Haverford Student Life Intern this summer. He is also an Admission Office Fellow.
Students outside the Dining Center ca. 1985. The DC was a stop on the 1998 admission tour, which must have been difficult for everyone involved during the lunch rush.
You’ve seen them walking around like a gaggle of geese, making you feel like an animal in a zoo. College tours have long been an important part of the college experience for both current students and prospective students and their families. But back in 1998 getting and giving a tour of Haverford was an entirely different experience than what it is today.
So what is a tour like? If you haven’t been on one, here's a quick run down of the modern tour. You start in the admissions office in Whitehead Campus Center, head down to Kim and Tritton to talk about housing and customs, then walk up to the KINSC rotunda where guides stop to mention the cricket pavilion and that we have the number one varsity cricket team in the country (we also have the only one) which families always laugh at. After that, you head into the rotunda to talk about academics. On the way out of the KINSC, after a stop for Zubrow, you head up Founders Green to talk about Haverhistory and the honor code. The next part of the tour takes you through Lutnick Library and then down the ramp where you’ll learn about our oldest tree. After that the tour heads down towards Hall, and the guide talks about the 2020 Student Strike. After that rather sudden shift in tone you’ll head into the VCAM, then down out towards Gummere where the tour wraps up with a walk through the GIAC via James where the guide talks about athletics and social life.
In 1998 the tour was a little different. You started in Whitehead, headed out to Sharpless (the KINSC wasn't around until 2000) then into a random classroom, hoping no one was there, and then up to the science library where you made a brief stop
You had more time inside buildings back in the day. Roberts was the place to sit down and talk about the honor code. The distance was also much longer, 0.97 miles versus today's 0.67 miles. All that walking meant that there was a lot less stationary time to talk, and walking backwards and talking is often worse in practice than simply stopping to talk to the tour group, so while tours had much more distance to cover it meant guides had a lot less time to talk to the group and to receive their questions. This meant that there was not time to talk about consortia and the BiCo and very little time for questions, but it also meant that visitors got to see the inside of a lot more of the buildings, like the dining center and science library. However, this was also disruptive to the people using these spaces; in particular, getting a tour group inside and then back outside of the DC must have been a real nightmare during the lunch rush.There was no hosting, where tour guides sit in the admission office lobby and talk to prospective families, in 1998 either.
So how has the spirit of a tour changed since 1998? Well, the biggest change is that we have a much larger focus on student agency now, which means more time on the honor code and plenary, a talk about the strike and more time on student social life (including the stop at James House). So overall there is a much larger focus today on the people of Haverford, instead of the facilities of Haverford. We also now have an accessible tour route so that everyone can come on one of our tours.
Several of the most important parts of the tour were present all the way back in 1998, including the cricket joke (we have the best varsity cricket team in the US, but also the only one) and the most important rule: no “Swat Sucks” shirts for tour guides.
The 1998 style of tour did have a penchant for dropping in on places and seeing if prospective students could look in. There was the expectation that tour guides had a friend with a clean room in Barclay that they could show off, and that a random classroom in Sharpless would be available to sit in before heading to the science library. There was also Marshall, where a tour guide would open the main doors, pop their head in, and turn around if anyone was there.
Before the pandemic, tours would go into Tritton and Monday morning tour guides would scout it out before taking their group into the building, creating a perverse incentive for the residents of Tritton to keep their common spaces messy, lest 10 tours a day walk through their hallways. Still, there are many stories of a tour guide who forgot to check ahead only to bring a tour group into a rather messy hall, with the remains of a weekend party still out. And of course there are a lot of stories from Tritton residents about coming out of or going to the shower, only to see a tour group bearing down on them. There is now little desire to bring back the dorm walkthroughs, as they both displeased the residents and made parents ask a number of unwanted questions about bathrooms, sometimes becoming quite vocal in their distaste for our gender neutral system.
When it came time to field questions, usually from parents, the 1998 handbook provided little guidance in how to handle negative questions. Nowadays handling questions with a negative attitude with tact is one of the most important parts of our training and handbook. Have tours become more combative, or are we simply better preparing guides for negativity they may receive?
There is also the fun question of what stories about Haverford to tell. In 1998 they were quite fond of the story of how Barclay burned down. As the story goes, the men in Barclay set up Christmas lights all over the hall to be more seductive to their female guests. The lights caught fire, burning the building and destroying its tower. Nowadays our Barclay focus is on the apocryphal story of how Chevy Chase (ex-’66) brought a cow up to the 4th floor and was subsequently separated from the community (both the TV show and Haverford).
As well as admissions tours, numerous groups have put on tours that highlight specific parts of the history of Haverford, from the building-specific tours, like the library tours, to the more recent efforts to use tours to tell a more accurate history of the campus. An example of the latter is the “People’s History Tour of Haverford” program which seeks to tell the full story of Haverford, including the parts of the institutions history that are not so savory.
Tours have been, and will continue to be, an integral part of the college application process, for it is the best time for parents and students to see the campuses they may be applying to and get an impression of what the places are actually like, not just what the website wants you to know.
--Maxwell Champlin '25