Every year, thousands of prospective students and their parents tour Baylor University before making a college decision. This is where Baylor puts its best foot forward to attract undergraduates. How effective is it? We took the tour to find out.
11:45am: I arrive at the Wiethorn Undergraduate Admissions Center, having already booked my solo spot for the noon tour. From the outside, this has to be the least impressive building on all of campus. They’ve clearly outgrown the space, evidenced by a modular building parked on the side. My guess is they have plans to upgrade in the near future. Maybe when the mighty IHOP runs out of their lease?
11:55am: Things are looking up. Inside, I find plush furniture, coffee, water, green and gold popcorn, and chocolate chip cookies on a serving tower. The prospective students are nervous, buzzing with anticipation and staying close to their parents. The student workers are outgoing, confident, and give clear expectations. They dim the lights and play a few inspirational hype videos. An employee walks through the admissions process and gives tips on how to stand out in the 36,000 applications they’re expected to receive. Good luck. The vast majority of families in the room are from out of state. I’m a little surprised at how straightforward the Christian messaging is.
12:15pm: Because the group is so large, we don’t get to ride in the fancy golf carts. There aren’t enough seats. They’ve determined we’ll do a walking tour. Everyone in my group happens to be from Chicago. Our tour guide, Riley, is from North Carolina. He’s a 6’6 freshman sales major, and he fits the bill. The students in our group aren’t sure yet if they’ll be admitted, and their parents ask pretty standard questions as we walk to the Science Building – meal plans, dorm rules, transportation, where to pick up mail, etc. My guess is they’re well aware of the tuition costs, because that’s never mentioned throughout the day. Ahead, the BSB reminds everyone that not all of the buildings look like Wiethorn.
12:20pm: In the BSB, we are crammed in the lobby with a showcase where students are presenting their research on big boards. For the first time on the tour, academics becomes the focus. Until now, all of the messaging has been about the undergrad experience and Baylor’s traditions. Overall, the scale of the tour is weighted far more on tradition, experience, and Christian heritage than on academics. It’s clear they’re selling the Baylor experience, not the value of a Baylor degree. But here, they talk faculty ratios (15:1), average class size (27), and hands-on learning.
12:35pm: The SLC is a huge selling point for the crowd. Riley tells us when Matt Rhule and the football players come every week to play pick-up basketball games, and my mind goes straight to injury concerns. The last thing a 1-12 team needs is an injury from pick-up basketball, but I digress.
12:45pm: I’ll just say it: the new business school is the best building on campus. Not my favorite by any stretch, but the best. I also learned a few things – there is a 6.5 million dollar fund that is managed by a new class every semester, and the gains are put toward scholarships. Students can also pitch small business ideas to an investment committee, sort of like on Shark Tank, and be granted startup money with no strings attached.
1pm: We gather at the statue of Judge Baylor and hear the spiel about Waco Hall, photo traditions, and all of that. Before leaving, they teach the group how to do a Sic ‘Em Bears, and I’m amused that barely any of the parents and students seem to know that’s part of Baylor’s tradition. A confused and half-hearted “Sic ‘em bears!” rings towards Pat Neff.
1:05pm: We stop at the pillar from Independence, and hear about Baylor’s foundation. I had forgotten about the time capsule buried here, which will be opened in the year 2045. One thing the students were asked to put in the capsule were drawings of what they expected campus to look like. My guess is they’re going to be way off. I start to realize the tour won’t include Armstrong Browning, my favorite spot on campus.
1:10pm: En route to the quad, someone asks why the faces on plaques have their noses painted pink. Riley does his best to explain the NoZe Brothers.
1:15pm: In the quad, they lay the Baylor tradition on thick. Legends about Rufus, Dr. Pepper hour, Homecoming Parade, and the light posts honoring fallen soldiers. The hook has already been set, but this is where they start to reel you in. Baylor’s traditions and heritage are second to none and extremely unique. Did you know Baylor Homecoming has been certified by the Smithsonian as the oldest parade in the US? Don’t step on the star of the seal or else you won’t graduate in four years. On and on. So much history in one spot.
1:25pm: Fountain Mall, named after a fountain that was removed for a long time for unclear reasons and then replaced by a new fountain, is sort of confusing, but the Chicagoans seem to like the new one. One of them jokes about wanting to jump in the water because of the heat. It’s 75 degrees and muggy. I don’t have the heart to tell her about what’s coming in July. Unfortunately, the bears are asleep and out of sight.
1:30pm: Walking back to Wiethorn, we pass by Penland. I had no idea that both girls and guys live here now, split into two sides. When did that happen? On the walk back, Riley tells us his Baylor story. His dad lost a job when he was in high school, and his family struggled to make ends meet, so Riley took on a job to bring in some extra money. They even went on food stamps at one point to survive. He applied to Baylor because the application was free. On the same day he heard that he was accepted, his house was broken into and all of the cash he had saved for school was stolen. He felt like God was somehow telling him to trust that Baylor was the right place. Through hard work and the generosity of others, Riley’s living his Baylor dream. And I’m reminded what a magical place this is.
After the tour, would I come to school here? In a heartbeat.