College Tours: Fixed Supply and Variable Demand

It is finally spring, which is the busiest season in the Office of Admission here at the University of Puget Sound. As a campus host (tour guide), I look forward to meeting all the new prospective students, because it’s a good mix of juniors beginning to look at college, and seniors who have been accepted and are trying to make their decisions. The influx of people does two things: it increases the average tour size, and makes each guide more productive; because they are giving the same number of tours in the same amount of time, but with more people receiving the service. Below, you can see how many more visitors come between the end of March and April.

Spring 2016 tours photo
The blue bars represent the total number of visitors for that day, and the orange bars represent the average size of each information session for that day.

For most of the school year, our guides give tours with one to two families, usually consisting of a parent or two with their student. In the spring, however, the number can jump up to five or more families per tour. Generally, my favorite tours, and the ones that I think give prospective students the best idea of what Puget Sound is really about are ones in which: the student is engaged and interested, the parent asks some questions but let’s the student think for themselves, and the guide is able to share stories and experiences that are focused on memories made, not facts and figures. That being said, the tours that meet these criteria tend to be one to two family tours.

All of this stems from a key issue, a fixed supply of tours per day, and variable demand for those tours. Another issue that further complicates this “market” for tours is the lack of a price mechanism. Generally, an increase in the price that suppliers receive prompts an increase in quantity supplied, but with tours the quantity supplied remains relatively fixed. While some alternative tour services like Campus Sherpa have appeared, they offer a fundamentally different (possibly inaccurate) product than an official college visit.

So, my question is: Does a larger tour create a decrease in effectiveness of the tour for accomplishing its purpose, and is that offset by the increase in efficiency?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *