It's All in the Visit

Inspiration for optimizing college visits.

Campus Visitor Hierarchy of Needs

Posted by Justin Bayer
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I just completed the first month of staff and ambassador workshops for the 2016-2017 academic year, and I owe a huge thank you to the schools that helped me kick it off: Albion College, St. John’s University, University of Dayton, University of Mount Union, University of New Haven, and Xavier University of Louisiana. The month also included a presentation with the student leaders of St. Bonaventure University at the NYSACAC Student Leaders in Admissions Forum. Each experience was unique but similar in its inspiration for the year ahead. I saw Mount Union’s admissions and athletic staffs come together in a challenge to rethink how the campus visit fosters community. I broke new ground in beginning a partnership with our first institution in Michigan, at Albion where the students inspired me for the year ahead. I ended the first week on the road with the tour guides of my alma mater, the University of Dayton, the place where a college visit changed the course of my life.


It’s been almost 20 years since I held the high title of campus tour guide and, still, I’m thrilled with the work of helping students find their fit. Sometimes beyond thrilled. Sometimes I have what I call a MARV moment. MARV is the positive psychology construct that the Welcome To College workshops center on. It is a checklist to personal and professional flourishing that includes meaning, accomplishment, relationships, and vitality. When all the pieces collide in a situation, the emotion can be overwhelming, as was the case in visiting Dayton for this year’s workshop. I altered my presentation to include a picture of my home address at UD, 236 Kiefaber, and the image coincided with a chance visit from an old mentor and friend, John Albers. John was in from San Francisco and took time out of his visit to speak with the students. He had influenced the concept of MARV long before it was developed, and experiencing it with him that day was deeply motivating.


Earlier this summer at the CIVSA conference in San Diego, I had the opportunity to speak with the members over lunch. My goal was to share a new way to think about the college visit. I had been reading Chip Conley’s book Peak, in which he expounds on how to leverage Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and this caused me to question the college visit from a new angle. What is the hierarchy of needs of a campus visitor?

The foundation of the pyramid is meeting the visitor’s physiological and safety needs. How comfortable and clean is the campus? Is there an emergency light system? A school may meet every need with excellence on top of the pyramid, but a visitor begins at the bottom. The middle of the pyramid is the need to belong. Does this visit invite me into a community? A good friend, Joe Tiesi who runs the visit program at Binghamton University said, “It takes a campus to run a visit program.” The admissions office cannot carry everything. Visitors need interactions with faculty, with student development staff, with athletics, and with the grounds or staff who run the cash register in the main dining hall. Interaction is key. Second from the top is the need for esteem, the knock-your-socks-off quality service. Does this place make me feel valued and cared for? Did they remember my name? This can’t be faked. Are your ambassadors and visitors connecting from the first greeting at the door to the final follow-up email? Topping the pyramid is the need for self-actualization, where things click. This is where the value of understanding MARV manifests. When a student recognizes another student’s experience of meaning, accomplishment, relationships, and vitality on campus and understands that this could become their reality, all other campuses become subject to this realization. Engaging someone’s desire to become fully alive, by developing his or her best self in a place that values and protects that process, is what triggers the gut feeling of finding college fit. And this is the magic in retaining a student.


To our many friends running campus visit programs across the country and changing student lives daily, I hope this visual reminder of a campus visitor’s hierarchy of needs will serve as a resource in your work. If you are curious to know how ambassador management software can facilitate MARV in your guide-visitor interactions, we would love to talk.

We wish you the best in the start of this new year, especially as visit season kicks into gear. Hope to see you at NACAC!

Topics: Reimagining College Visits