Videotaped campus tours ease college hunt

Families can get a glimpse of life on campus without having to visit

Strategies

March 16, 2003|By Bruce Moh | Bruce Moh,Boston Globe

Checking out colleges with your teen-ager can be a costly undertaking, but Cliff Kramon has come up with a quick, cost-effective way to take tours of schools across the country and around the world without ever leaving your home.

Kramon works as an independent college adviser in Tenafly, N.J., helping students decide what college is right for them. As part of that business, he regularly videotaped tours at colleges around the country for his clients to watch. Once his library became large enough, he decided it might be a business of its own.

Called Collegiate Choice Walking Tours, it offers videos of student tours at 410 colleges around the United States and 11 in five foreign countries. The videos cost $15 apiece plus shipping, which is $8 for up to four videos and $12 for five or more. Order forms are available at www.collegiatechoice.com.

"They're about three steps up from The Blair Witch Project," Kramon said of his videos' quality. "It's really to give you a feel for the place, to let you sit back and ask yourself whether you could see yourself going to school there -- or not."

Kramon is the first to say the videos cannot replace a campus visit. He says their purpose is to allow a student and his or her family to widen their search and then narrow the field without being buried by the cost of airfares, hotels, rental cars and other travel expenses.

"A college education can end up costing $130,000 over four years," Kramon said. "You ought to research it like it's a big deal."

Kramon noted that a student trying to visit four schools in different parts of the country could easily run up a travel tab in the thousands of dollars. "The trouble with a lot of schools," he added, "is there's nothing near them."

On most campus visits that involve a plane trip, it's rare for both parents to go along because of the cost. Kramon said 85 percent of the time it's the mother who accompanies the child on the tour. He said his videos would allow the father to also get a sense of the school and participate in any discussions.

Kramon's tapes are like home movies. There's no background music or fancy camera work. It's as if a parent went along on the college tour and taped everything he saw. There's no editorial commentary by Kramon or attempt to tell a story. Whatever the guide says on the tour, right or wrong, he records.

The tapes take you all over campus, inside dining halls, dorms, libraries, gyms and classrooms. They give you a feel for the campus. I reviewed tapes of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., and Occidental College in the Los Angeles area, and the two could not have been more different.

Tufts comes across as a typical New England campus. There's the classic quadrangle, historic buildings and landscaping that consists of mostly grass and trees. Occidental has white, modern buildings surrounded by fountains and lush vegetation. At one point in the tour, sprinklers pop up out of the ground to water the grass.

On many tapes, you see students walking to class, giving you an unscientific sense of the racial mix at the school and how the students dress.

Lots of information is also conveyed by the tour guide, everything from average class size to security, fraternity life to dorm life, meal plans to Internet hookups. Although the tour guide is an integral part of the video, Kramon never actually shows you the guide's face. It's the one editing decision he insists on. "How the tour guide looks shouldn't matter," he said. "But sadly, it does."

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