College visits are opportunities for schools to work their magic and convince students not only to apply, but also to envision themselves on campus for the next four years. We often think high school students must “sell” themselves to admission offices at colleges and universities, but it is easy to forget that schools must also sell themselves as attractive options to students.

Illinois State University has created an alternative to the usual campus tours and info sessions. TEACH (Teacher Education and Access to College for High School) is an initiative that creates a unique college visit experience.

CPS students get a glimpse into Braden Auditorium.

Last March, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students from the Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods visited Illinois State to experience the campus community firsthand. During their visit, teens from CPS shadowed current ISU students and spent a day walking in a college student’s shoes.

Groups of three CPS students were paired with one ISU guide and were sent on a four-hour exploration of campus and college life. The small teams had the freedom to decide where to go and what to see, so some went straight to the soccer field while others roamed the Quad. They visited residence hall rooms, attended classes, and ate lunch at Bone Student Center, which was an exciting experience the visiting students loved. Who wouldn’t love all those food choices?

CPS students enjoy lunch at Bone Student Center, which was an experience the visiting students loved.

But the Chicago-based students agreed the most impactful part of the visit were the candid discussions about college life with their Illinois State hosts. TEACH gave the teens a chance to ask questions they might not feel comfortable asking in large groups.

“We got to ask the ISU students personal questions,” said Crista, a senior from Benito Juarez Community Academy. “I asked about what it’s like to be a minority here. I asked her if there were any culture shocks that she experienced, and she answered straight up.”

Before the TEACH trip, ISU was in Crista’s list of top five colleges, but after her visit, ISU moved up to one of her top two choices.

Fostering a personal experience with ISU hosts and empowering visitors to explore their interests on campus made the TEACH trip unlike most other college tours. Participating in TEACH sparked an excitement towards ISU in students like Crista, and the program hopes to attract even more CPS students to become future Redbirds.

Author Carlos Millan is coordinator for education partnerships at The Resurrection Project.