Chloe Abbruzzese, a high school junior from Teaneck, N.J., was approaching the pedestrian bridge with two other families on a beautiful Thursday in May just before lunchtime. She and her mother, Anne, were participating in a tour of Northeastern’s Boston campus—a vehicle that, at most colleges, has been rendered a casualty of COVID-19.
“This is our first in-person tour since the pandemic,” said Abbruzzese, who was accompanied by her mother, Laurel. “It provides a lot more insight to the energy of the school. Getting to see the buildings in-person and getting a feel for the people as well as the campus is really great.”
Northeastern has been one of the rare universities in the United States to offer in-person campus tours to prospective students and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. The tours resumed last August when the campus reopened, and in recent months the numbers have soared. As many as 100 tours were conducted daily in small groups of six to eight people as decision time for families has approached. Since January, Northeastern has conducted 4,204 in-person tours of the campus.
“I’m really happy with this tour,” said Lauren Bigin, a high school junior from Weston, Conn. She said she found herself being attracted to Northeastern’s “own little campus community—but you’re still surrounded by all this urban life, which I love.”
Bigin and her mother, Anne, were participating in their first college visit on May 20.
In-person campus tours have been “hard to find,” Anne Bigin said. “It’s amazing to have that interaction of the tour, just the talking back and forth.”
Laurel Abbruzzese said the limited grouping of six people enabled everyone to converse personally with tour guide Arya Guinney, a fifth-year student whose passion shone through.
“In a small group, having the interaction among the family, it’s very insightful,” Abbruzzese said. “It sparks things.”
All Northeastern tours are led by students like Breanna McClarey, a rising fourth-year student in criminal justice and political science. She made her debut two years ago while guiding a group of 40 students. On May 11, as a result of health and safety protocols, she was leading a more intimate and personalized tour for three members of the Eig family from Clarksburg, Md.
“I feel like this humanizes the school for me,” said Sam Eig, who has applied to Northeastern as a freshman transfer student. “The tour guide obviously added a personality to the place that makes it a lot more appealing. So it helps a lot.”
Eig was joined by his mother, Lori, and younger sister, Jessica, who will be entering Northeastern in the fall as part of the N.U.in program in Thessaloniki, Greece. This was her second tour of Northeastern in the past month.
“Just getting to see everything again helps reassure me that I made the right decision,” Jessica Eig said. “I’m so excited to come here, and learning little things about all of the buildings—and actually getting to see them rather than just seeing pictures online—really puts things into perspective for me.”
People who have been vaccinated no longer are required to wear masks during campus tours, in accordance with new public health protocols.
To encourage the safety of the visitors and the guides, Northeastern tours have been conducted outdoors apart from a visit inside the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. The university is considering changes to enable visits to additional indoor locations, but those decisions have not been finalized, says Liz Cheron, dean of admissions at Northeastern.
Like most universities, Northeastern also offers a virtual tour online that enables students and their families to view a residence hall, Snell Library, and Curry Student Center, among other campus locations.
“A lot of the virtual tours start to mesh together and seem the same,” said Chloe Abbruzzese, who added that far she preferred the reality of the walking tour after having explored several universities online.
“A great tour guide goes a long way—and she’s phenomenal,” said Laurel Abbruzzese in reference to Guinney. “I’m learning so much from her and also from hearing the questions of other people on the tour, including things I might not have even thought to ask if I was just looking online.”
The university pivoted to meet the high demand for tours, says Cheron.
“In April, which was the busiest month that we’ve seen since 2019, we thought about how we could address visitor volume—in offering scheduled visits for admitted students, but also serving walk-in visitors who planned to explore campus on their own,” says Cheron.
A co-op student with experience in the restaurant industry helped devise a text system that notifies visitors when their tour is ready to go. The method has enabled new tours to be scheduled quickly, limiting wait times to 30 minutes or less.
After checking in at the Northeastern Admissions Visitor Center, the Eigs filled out a wellness form attesting that they had no symptoms, hadn’t tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and hadn’t been exposed to anyone with COVID-19. In accordance with health safety protocols, they wore masks as they were led from one popular campus meeting point to another: from West Village to Richardson Plaza, along Huntington Avenue, through Krentzman Quad, and across the pedestrian bridge before concluding at Centennial Common.
The May 20 tour was led along a similar route by Guinney, a psychology student who told her group about the career epiphany she had undergone at Northeastern, resulting in her relatively new dream of working in sports operations for a team or league when she graduates next year.
In normal times, campus tours attracted visitors from around the world. Though the pandemic has cut down on international travel, prospective students from all parts of the U.S. continue to sign up for Northeastern tours—including Mia Strassman and her mother, Jessica, from Marin, Calif., who were part of the May 20 group.
“This is our third in-person tour in three different cities,” said Jessica Strassman. “And this is by far the best tour.”