Tour guides speak out on changing admissions image

Will Walkey

Courtesy of Claire Cahill ‘20

Due to the sensitivity of the subject matter, the names of guides have been changed so comments will remain anonymous.

According to U.S. News, “a visit to the campus” is the fourth-most important factor in influencing a prospective student’s final decision, behind financial assistance, post-graduate jobs, and reputation. 41.8 percent of students surveyed by the notable rankings website listed a visit, including tours, information sessions, and interviews, as “very important” in their ultimate decision to attend a college or look elsewhere.

Given how important campus visits are, just how authentic of an image are Colby students giving prospective students when they first arrive on Mayflower Hill? How scripted are the offerings, and how much does that matter? The Echo sat down with admissions visit interns, who function as tour guides and front desk workers, as well as senior fellows to discuss changes to the admissions department, and the authenticity of the image this department presents.

Multiple guides told the Echo that they have noticed changes in the expectations for tours in recent years. What used to be a more personalized job based on “interpretation and storytelling,” according to one guide named Victoria, has now turned into a memorized script, where personal anecdotes are only allowed in very specific moments. What used to be an experience that “didn’t feel like a tour,” to Victoria, but instead a conversation, now follows an exact route through the newest and most extravagant areas of campus, leaving out parts that are less appealing to look at, but part of the Colby student experience nonetheless.

According to the majority of guides interviewed, the Colby admissions department has not let its students reflect their true experiences here. One guide, Marco, claimed that the Allen Island Research Institute is often used as their “hook” during information sessions, but that very few students actually cite that resource as important to their happiness at Colby. At President David A. Greene’s State of the College address, he asked how many students had visited the Institute, barely any students raised their hands.

Marco also pointed out that the College’s website solely shows photographs of the campus in the Summer and Fall, neglecting the long winters. Another guide, Richard, also mentioned photographs of Colby students that reflect a level of diversity that has not reached campus yet, and added that the College “miss-sells our career center,” and the way students use the campus in general.

“We always go in and out the grandest entries of campus, rather than the ways actual students walk,” claimed another guide, Pamela. She cited the Outing Club Office as a spot tours “would never go,” despite it being a genuine and loved spot on campus, but less modern. She also mentioned the remodeling of the Lunder House, which once was a small, rural reflection of Colby and now has a “sterile,” more modern interior and aura.

Guides feel that this fabricated image extends into forcing employees to discuss their time at Colby in a certain way, which is often completely unlike their true involvement on campus.

“Basically, we get taught over and over again that if you get a

question you have to respond in the most positive way possible,” Pamela said. Richard also mentioned that tour guides now have to “check all the boxes” and never say that they have not experienced life in every program, building, and classroom on campus.

Memorization, according to Victoria, is a far more important part of the process of hiring guides than it was just a few years ago, and a script written by the admissions office staff makes up “95 percent” of what students say on tours.

Some students feel that the current amount of personal anecdotes is enough, while others clearly want more leeway and freedom. Explaining why he has become frustrated with working at the office, Marco stated: “It’s just the fact that they gave us a script, and that we have to stay exactly on it.”

Partially due to this shift towards script, especially in information sessions, Victoria said that the number of applicants for the Senior Fellow position has dropped. Other tour guides confirmed this decline.

Pamela gave an explanation for this decrease in applicants: “This should be a desirable job, but the info sessions are so abrasive.” The added stress of sticking to a script, and being scolded if you get it wrong, has irritated several students. Multiple student admissions workers interviewed for this article said that they have been “talked to” when they mess up the script, and to some, that is not the point of working for the department.

“When you visit so many schools, you’re going to remember how you felt in a place, not statistics, your heart will go there,” Pamela said when asked how students most often pick Colby. She stated that the “feel” of the college presented by admissions is what draws students to Mayflower Hill. The basic campus facts, buildings, and programs mentioned on the tours, however, are for the “very wealthy parents” and potential donors. For prospective students to get a more accurate depiction of Colby and make an informed decision about applying here, the tours and information sessions need to be more “truthful and genuine. [Prospective students] can tell when they’re being force fed something,” Pamela said.

Most interviewed guides answered “I don’t know,” “I’m sure it’s the same” or “it couldn’t possibly be worse at other schools” when asked if the scripted nature of tours was common elsewhere. One guide, though, disagreed and cited Bowdoin and other similar schools as “more comfortable in their own skin” when advertising themselves.

While students expressed frustration at these changes to the admissions office, most acknowledged them as a “necessary evil.” One guide, named Martin, said “We’re trying to push to be a top tier school, which is kind of a distasteful process.” He added, “Selling something does feel disingenuous,” citing the Dare Northward campaign and the rapid evolution of the College as possible reasons why the Admissions Department is changing its strategy. Despite being less personal, Martin claimed the tours are “still on message” with Colby’s values, and still “geared towards [guides] being as genuine as they can be while still selling the school.” This conflict between exposure to experience and selling a product is a core clash between employees in the admissions department.

As shown in Greene’s address, the College is changing. Admission applicants have more than doubled, and the applicant pool is more diverse. However, there is debate as to whether or not these changes are forced, scripted, or even slightly student-influenced. In addition, many interviewed guides wonder if advertising from the Admissions Department is genuine, or if it lets students, who are the only ones who can truly give an accurate perspective for prospective first-years, have any voice at all.

To Richard, a more personalized experience from current students is necessary to facilitate an invaluable feeling of comfort and belonging to those who choose to attend here: “[Admissions] tell us we’re their biggest asset. We are what sells the College, and they are allowing less and less room for us as people to shine through.” Pamela added, “They hire us because we’re well-spoken. Can’t you let us as people reflect that?”

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