Luke Baker discusses Transylvania with visiting student Myra Black, right, a junior at Lexington’s Henry Clay High School, and her sister, Sarah.
Student tour guides play key role in new student recruitmentby William A. Bowder
Anyone who works in college admissions will tell you that the campus visit is almost always a crucial element in the decision-making process by prospective students and their families. That’s why so much thought and effort goes into ensuring that a campus tour or an overnight visit at Transylvania is the best possible experience.
“We tell prospective students that a campus visit is the most important thing they can do,” said Kari Kolb, assistant director of admissions and coordinator of Transy’s student tour guides, known as Transylvania Ambassadors. “We know from experience that it has a huge influence on their decisions.”
The best visit experience from Transylvania’s point of view, said Kolb, is one that emphasizes many of the essential qualities of the university—small size, personal attention, caring professors, a friendly campus community, and an urban location in Lexington that makes Transy special when compared with many of its sister colleges.
The responsibility for conveying all of that, and more, during a campus visit falls on the shoulders of the student tour guides.
“They’re really the front door to the university,” Kolb said. “We encourage them to share their personal stories with our visitors. There is a certain amount of factual information they convey about Transy, but we don’t want them to just ‘fact dump.’ High school students don’t care about that. They want to know about the tour guide’s personal experiences on campus, who they hang out with, where they eat, what they study, what professors they have.”
Becoming a Transylvania Ambassador is a very competitive process, and a real honor for those selected. About 50 students applied for the 2010-11 school year, and 18 made the final cut.
“A passion for Transylvania is the number-one quality we’re looking for,” Kolb said. “We want them to be excited about being a tour guide and be a positive role model for the university. It’s a huge leadership position—they’re responsible for a big part of our recruitment efforts. We’re fortunate to have so many students who are that dedicated to Transylvania.”
Here are some of the thoughts and experiences of four Transylvania Ambassadors for the current academic year.
Meredith Norman is a junior elementary education major and Spanish minor from Georgetown, Ky., whose ambition is to become an elementary school teacher.
“When I first started giving tours, I was nervous about all the things I felt I would have to remember to say about buildings and programs. I learned that wasn’t really the most important thing students want to hear. They want to know about your experiences as a Transy student and the experiences they might have here. We don’t talk about a lot of numbers—parents are usually the ones who ask about that, and we try to leave those questions for the admissions counselors.
“It’s all very personalized. Instead of just saying, ‘This is Cowgill, where you’ll take your business classes,’ we try to incorporate our own stories about courses we’ve had so they can picture themselves being in that classroom. We want to help them see a home for themselves at Transylvania.
“Sometimes we’re asked questions that are difficult or awkward to answer, or are unexpected. You always try to be honest, because that’s what they expect. One student asked me point-blank, ‘Is it hard to get into Transy?’ It kind of caught me off-guard—I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question before. I talked about the fact that one of the big advantages at Transy is that your admissions counselor will look at your whole application, not just one aspect, like an ACT score. We want students who will become a meaningful part of the Transy community, so we look at things like involvement in student organizations and community service.”
Eli Glass is a junior double major in economics and business administration (finance concentration) from Metropolis, Ill., who is planning on a career in business.
“One of the most important things to me about our campus tours is that we don’t have anything remotely close to a script to go by. My tour will be completely different in many ways from one Meredith might give, but we’re both doing the same thing—we want them to know what it feels like to be a student at Transylvania. That’s the theme of our tours and our training as ambassadors—we’re supposed to tell our Transy stories to the students.
“You can tell someone about the kind of close community we have here, but then it’s more immediate when they experience that on a tour. In a lot of cases, professors will come up and speak to the students and their families. I’ve had a lot of Transy students chime in.
“When we begin a tour on the front porch of Old Morrison, you can look out and see how close we are to downtown Lexington. We tell them about the social benefits of Lexington, such as entertainment, and the practical benefits, like internships and shadowships. I’ve shared my own experiences as a summer intern with the waste management company that serves Lexington, as well as my friends’ experiences at law firms or in healthcare.
“When we show them a student room in Clay-Davis or Forrer, we don’t have any ‘show’ rooms. We show them an actual room of an ambassador who hosts overnight visits. When a question comes up about communal bathrooms, which many of these high school students aren’t used to, I always sell the fact that one of the benefits is that you don’t have to clean your own bathroom—someone cleans it for you.”
Jessica Obi is a sophomore from Lexington who has not declared a major but is leaning toward English.
“When I did my overnight visit to Transy as a high school student, it was important to me to feel comfortable, like I would fit in here. So drawing from that, my goal as a tour guide and overnight host is to connect with the student and make them feel at home. I’m exposing them to the Transylvania environment so they can see if they picture themselves as a Transylvania student.
“If a student has an interest in English, I can share my experiences in classes I’ve had in Haupt Humanities. But also, as I complete my general education requirements, I can tell them about a psychology class I took that I didn’t think I’d be interested in, but changed my mind. I can talk about how these different classes connect with one another.
“I’ve become a very good listener while giving these tours. I love meeting students and their families, hearing their stories. Then I tell them about our close community here at Transy, how much fun we have, and use the example of students and professors dancing in front of the stage when Tiempo Libre (a Cuban band) performed in Haggin Auditorium.
“We aren’t going to know the answer to every single question we’re asked. The thing is not to make up answers or stories. It’s being honest and saying, ‘I don’t know the answer to that, but I can look it up for you when we get back.’ And then I’ll notify the admissions counselor of that interest.”
Luke Baker is a senior biology major originally from Owensboro, Ky., who plans to attend graduate school for a Ph.D. in molecular genetics.
“I have three things I always talk about on tours. The fact that Transy is in Lexington blows most colleges in Kentucky out of the water. The relationship between faculty and students is exceptionally strong here. And that Transy is a welcoming community with students who are very tightknit and trusting of one another. I think families feel that when they come here. They recognize that we’re genuine and friendly and interested in them.
“The hardest questions I get—usually from the father—are when they’ll look at me and say, ‘What did you get on your ACT?’ Or, ‘What kinds of scholarships do you have?’ Or, ‘How am I supposed to pay for my son or daughter to go here when I’m a single working father?’ Even though we’re encouraged to share our personal stories, that kind of information is more private.
“I deflect those questions by talking about them in general, such as telling them the minimum ACT we generally accept, or the average ACT of our incoming classes. I tell them I know our financial aid packages are usually very good for families who are deserving.
“Dorm life is one of my favorite parts about being in college, so I enjoy hosting a student for an overnight visit. We pick them up at six, eat dinner, hang out, see a play on campus or a ball game—just introducing them to various aspects of campus life. We hang out in the residence hall with one of the doors open so there’s lots of traffic in and out. Overnight students get to meet each other and can share their experiences.
“I love meeting that student that you really click with, who wants to know everything about you, and you want to know about them. I’ve had students get so comfortable with me, they’ll tell me about their girlfriend problems. And then you see them at a reception, you send them postcards, you form this relationship with them, and you want them to come to Transy so bad. The best reward of all is when you see them on campus the next fall. That’s the best outcome you can hope for.”