College Tour Guides Play Key Role

Columbia Daily Tribune
August 10, 2010

By Tim Barker

ST. LOUIS (AP) – There was a time when little thought was put into campus tours for prospective students. Today, tour guides at colleges and universities play important roles in the recruitment process.

“Five to 10 years ago, they were simply the thing you did if you had time. Now they’ve become events,” Steven Goodman, an admissions consultant with Washington-based Top Colleges, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in yesterday’s edition. “Some universities even give out tickets, as if you were going to visit the Empire State Building or some historical landmark.”

College students who lead the tours are well-versed in the hot spots on campus, myths and legends, and give a running commentary aimed at luring students – all while walking backward.

At the University of Missouri, Josh Heffernan of Sunset Hills can tell you about the legend of the shamrock built into the pathway outside the engineering building: Cross it and you are destined to marry an engineer. He can talk about the history of buildings on campus or provide the inside scoop that the surest way to ace a test is to rub the nose of the statue of former Gov. David Francis outside Jesse Hall.

Heffernan’s parents and older sister were educated at Mizzou, so it isn’t surprising he has strong feelings for the university. Still, he insists he only says things he believes. “I’m not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,” he said. “I’m not trying to be a used car salesman.”

At Saint Louis University, campus tours are the school’s best tool for persuading students to attend.

“It’s our No. 1 yield event,” said Jean Gilman, dean of undergraduate admissions. “It’s really these tour guides that make the university come alive.”

The tour guide jobs pay around minimum wage, and some are volunteer positions, but still they are hard to get. Administrators at St. Louis-area schools say it’s not uncommon to get 10 to 15 applicants for each opening.

The University of Missouri requires a written application and group and one-on-one interviews. And everyone is required to submit a project demonstrating their creativity.

“I’ve received everything from songs to poster boards to Power Point presentations. I’ve seen a Mizzou Life (board game) game. I’ve received a quilt. And there was a papier-mache tiger,” said LeAnn Stroupe, coordinator of the school’s visitor relations program.

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