The University Guides serve as an example of how to structure effective and objective outreach to prospective students
Days on the Lawn have come and with them students who are accepted but lost, unsure of where to go in Charlottesville or elsewhere. For directions, they can turn to the Admissions Office or the University Guides, two separate institutions which share a common love for Grounds.
The U-Guides are an admirable organization whose tryout process begins with a trial where it gauges applicants based on how well they can lead a tour. The second phase includes an interview where the organization considers an applicant's background traits, including ethnicity, school and major. Current guides can sign up to host interviews and help the probationary chair make final decisions. "In every conversation I've had [with the probationary chair], it's always been about building a class of guides," University Guides Chair Walker McKusick said. He added that "members of the guide service need to be diverse to be reflective of this school so prospective students can see what we have to offer," and we agree with him.
The U-Guides offer admissions and historical tours, and new members attend a weekly class for one semester with readings and quizzes to bone up on history. On the whole, by hosting workshops and reading visitor evaluations, the U-Guides aim to self-correct. They are also honest, according to McKusick, who said that it is better for a guide to admit ignorance on a question rather than make something up. But Sandy Gilliam, former secretary of the Board of Visitors and a former U-Guide who currently helps the group's training, told The Washington Post this week mistakes still happen among U-Guides.
In another article this week, U.S. News and World Report gave an overview of trends in admissions outreach across campuses. The piece depicts innovative strategies in admissions outreach with anecdotes from officials and students. There are significant differences in how admissions offices structure their informational campaigns, such as whether they pay guides and whether they script tours.
These factors are not as important as they appear. Even if a tour guide is a paid student who gives tours by the book, a visitor may not be aware of this. Often a prospective student or family will already have too many questions to ask how a tour is conducted. Thus, though tours must run on schedule, it is up to each guide to take the time to give full disclosure about who he works for.
Even as an independent, unpaid organization, the U-Guides must have a close working relationship with administrators. "[W]e have common goals, we certainly overlap," McKusick said of the Admissions Office. "But still, we maintain independence." Unfortunately, this organizational distinction is most likely lost during tours, most of which begin immediately after an information session held by the Admissions Office. The potential for confusion is exacerbated by there being only one paper evaluation form for visitors to rate both the Admissions Office information session and student-led tour. In each walk, U-Guides should explain their organization, and by more prominently exemplifying self-governance they will alleviate visitors' concerns of a planned message.