Student-run business gives candid campus tours

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

Three students from the College of William and Mary started with a simple idea: Provide more meaningful tours to prospective college students.

While colleges routinely provide tours for visiting students and their parents throughout the academic year, Candid Campus Tours tries to focus on answering specific needs and questions about the universities where it operates.

Kent Rollins, a graduate student at the college and CEO of Candid Campus, said the company seeks to be frank about how people might fit in on campus. That’s a stark contrast, he said, from the bulk of the college tours.

“There are a lot of times where the tour is more like a sales pitch than it is an honest assessment of where you might fit in at the college,” he said. “There’s a clear economic incentive for the college to make sure (those leading campus tours) are very good at that.”

The business started at W&M and has expanded. The company has trained representatives at schools including Stanford, Duke and Boston College.

“Every college and university we are aware of offers comprehensive campus tours. These tours, in most cases, provide prospective students with access to both representatives from the current student body and admission personnel, as well as to a variety of areas on campus at no cost,” wrote campus spokeswoman Erin Zagursky in an email. “We do not partner with any outside tour company to provide content.”

What Rollins describes as the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t necessarily help prospective students.

“Let’s say you were a journalism student,” Rollins said. “If you end up visiting the physics building — even if it’s new — it isn’t going to add that much,” he said. “We can get you in front of students or professors who have similar interests, or into a classroom where you might actually have a class.”

Co-founder Trevor Jackson said the ease with which ideas flow through the company is something he enjoys.

“We’ve been blessed be able to use the entrepreneurship center at the college, which just opened maybe a year ago,” he said. “We’ll get together and whiteboard it out. On one end we’ll have where we are now and our goals on the other end. Then you think of how to get there.”

The company has more than 125 guides at 35 schools, Rollins said. Candid Campus charges $50 for a one-hour tour, $100 for a two-hour tour, and $250 for a tour that lasts between four and six hours.

“We see Candid Campus tours as more supplemental. The college tour is great,” said Greg Garnhart, Candid Campus’ chief technology officer, who created the website. “But it can be crowded, and it’s not exactly personalized.”

Garnhart, a Leesburg native, chose William and Mary in part because of a second tour he took with a friend who showed him around campus.

“She’s a senior, now,” he said. “I was thinking of that when I joined (Candid Campus Tours). It really made me believe in the concept of the company.”

Because their tours are smaller, Candid Campus can arrange for meetings with current students or professors.

“We try to keep it to one or two families,” Garnhart said. “Of course bringing moms along is fine. That’s small enough to where they can feel comfortable asking questions about what they want to know.”

As institutions across the country raise tuition rates in an attempt to provide more services for students and respond to a decline in state funding, Rollins said tours such as those from Candid Campus are even more important.

“Families see how expensive college is,” he said. “If you end up transferring schools, the economic cost can be in the neighborhood of $20,000, because of credits that don’t transfer and more,” he said.

Garnhart said he isn’t sure how large the company can become.

“We don’t want it so big that we can’t control what’s going on,” he said. “We’ll see where it goes.”

Candid Campus

Visit candidcampustours.com to learn more about the business.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
61°