I am currently working on my First Impressions of the University of Cincinnati (UC), considered to be a “Hot College” by some media sources such as Forbes, U.S.News, PolicyMic and The Princeton Review for different reasons.

Its not uncommon for a college admissions office to pull out the stops in its marketing material and cite the media opinions it as gathered. But it does not really “sell” the school as much as student testimony. I’m not sure that the news media who cover colleges know what the “cool factors” are in selling a school. But the students who like it do.

UC was the first school that I have visited that advertised itself as a Hot College in its football stadium. UC might not draw a crowd like Ohio State does to the “Horseshoe,” nor draw the TV coverage. But their football team must be filling enough seats–according to the NCAA, UC drew just under 29,000 fans per home game–and earning enough TV rating points to justify hanging the Hot College ads. Kudos for their aggressiveness, but it might not be the best aspect of the school’s advertising.

UC’s admissions office has made one of the best college admissions marketing videos I have ever seen. It helps that the school has an interesting campus. But it also helps that they trust student volunteers, called ‘Roar Guides’ to give tours and talk about why they chose UC over the other colleges that also wanted them.  Roar Guides, unlike many other college tour guides, are not given a script. They are screened, of course. You would not want an unhappy or unsuccessful student to put down your school to prospects. But Roar Guides are not paid, so  there’s not much screening for the admissions staff to do.

Allowing a student tour guide to work without a script is a risk for a college admissions office. But it also makes tremendous sense. The students know the “cool factors” for their school better than the admissions officers do.

The students see more of their classmates each and every day. They know what they like to do as well as where they like to hang out. They know where you should walk and when, and where and when you should not. They can tell you how to work your way through the bureaucracy and find the best places to live when you have to move off campus.

College admissions officers can sell the pluses of their school, but they do not have a complete picture of the daily life of a student. UC actually tries to do this in two brochures. One shows the “day in the life” of two students, Danielle and Kyle. Another gives you a “bucket list” of fun things to do if you become a UC student. I hope that the students made the bucket list. But the tour video and the tours do the best job of selling for the college admissions team. I also wish they took all three brochures they hand out and put all of their information into one.

The University of Cincinnati has strengths that are not shared by most large research universities. It has co-op for more majors than most similar schools. That’s considered to be cool with the career-oriented students. It has several majors that provide rewarding and creative experiences. It’s the major university in a fairly large city that has more for college students to do than most people from larger cities would think.

But the most important cool factor is not what you might read about in a magazine or what the adults who market the school believe it is.

It’s what the committed students say and how they say it.

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