Campus tour guides express concern that lack of compensation limits financial diversity

Third-year BFA + BA/BS combined degree student Martina Tan, an Admissions tour guide, recounts the history of Tufts' mascot, Jumbo, to a group of prospective students outside Packard Hall on Nov. 15. Christine Lee / The Tufts Daily

For many prospective college students, a positive campus tour experience is the deciding factor for whether they ultimately choose to apply. This holds true at Tufts, where many students cite their tour as the reason for their application. For first-year Sarah Unterberger, her tour was a significant factor in her decision to apply early decision.

“My tour guide described how curious and passionate the students are [at Tufts]. I knew I wanted to be a part of that community,” Unterberger said.

Since tour guides play such critical roles in the admissions process, becoming one is highly competitive. The students who are ultimately selected are required to participate in several training tours, during which they shadow a current tour guide.

Not only are tour guides expected to showcase the university in the brightest light, but they are also responsible for knowing history and statistics about Tufts’ campus to provide prospective students with this valuable information. According to first-year Rachel Wang, a current tour guide applicant, tours last between an hour and an hour-and-a-half. Tour guides are required to lead several tours each semester, meaning that students who participate in the program typically devote a large amount of their time to showcasing Tufts.

Dean of Admissions and Enrollment Management Karen Richardson explained that tour guides play an essential role in the admissions process.

“We depend on our tour guides and appreciate the dedication and enthusiasm that they bring to their roles. They help to bring the best of Tufts to life for our applicants and visitors,” Richardson said.

As Tufts tour guides are considered volunteers, they do not receive pay. This differs from many other NESCAC schools, including AmherstBowdoin and Trinity, where tour guides have similar responsibilities and are paid for their work.

While there are differing opinions around the issue, some current tour guides at Tufts believe that, because students are passionate about sharing their college experience with prospective students, Admissions can continue offering the position as a volunteer job. Junior Hannah Read, a current tour guide, feels that the large number of applicants for tour guide positions provides no incentive for Admissions to make the position paid.

“I think Tufts can bank on the drive and passion of students and can get far enough and meet the Admissions department’s goals without paying as much as it should,” Read said. “I believe that Tufts students who want to … be tour guides are so driven and excited that there has historically been a high enough number of people interested … [to offer the position] without pay. Many Tufts [tour guides] might not have to worry about financial security.”

While offering the tour guide position as a volunteer role ensures that applicants are genuinely passionate about showcasing Tufts to prospective students, it may also deter students who are unable to dedicate such a significant amount of time without compensation. First-year Sarah Lilian explained that she ultimately decided not to apply for the position because it would require a significant commitment for which she would not be paid.

“I seriously considered being a tour guide when I first heard about the opportunity, but once I looked further and realized it was a volunteer position, I decided against pursuing it,” Lilian said. “It would be too difficult to manage my job, my workload, classes and clubs with volunteering to be a tour guide. If it were a paid position, I would have participated because [I’d] love sharing my experience at Tufts.”

Read added that in maintaining a volunteer-only tour guide position, the university sacrifices financial diversity in its admissions process.

“By keeping the position unpaid, Admissions is limiting [the] financial diversity [it presents] to potential new students,” she said. “In keeping the position a high-commitment, volunteer activity, many voices that comprise the Tufts student body who have unique experiences to share are limited because of financial constraints.”

Read noted that she sometimes wonders whether being a tour guide has been worthwhile, since she does not receive compensation for her significant time commitment.

“I … have often considered whether or not it is worth it to keep participating in the program when I could spend the time picking up another shift at my on-campus job or have more flexibility in my class schedule, since most tours are during the most popular class-time blocks,” Read said.

Richardson noted that universities that pay their tour guides require them to have more responsibilities than they hold at Tufts. She added that Tufts is not the only university to offer the position as volunteer-only.

“It is true that most NESCAC schools pay their tour guides, although some require students to perform additional admissions-related duties beyond tours. However, it is important to note that we have significantly more visits per year — approximately 55,000 — than other NESCAC schools,” Richardson said. “And a number of other universities that also have high annual visitation, such as Boston University, Boston College, Brown University, the University of Pennsylvania, Washington University [in St. Louis] and the University of Virginia, to name a few, also do not pay their tour guides.”

Richardson explained that the Admissions staff regularly meets with tour guides to give them an opportunity to address any concerns to to improve the experience for other tour guides.

We know that some tour guides have raised questions about the program and have suggested changes. We’re reaching out to those students directly to set up a meeting to discuss their concerns and ideas,” Richardson said.

Richardson added that paying tour guides would significantly impact the Admissions budget. She noted that tour guides learn valuable skills, including in public speaking, which provide a different form of reward.

“Practically speaking, paying tour guides would add a considerable expense to the Admissions budget,” Richardson said. “We know that many former tour guides say that volunteering to lead large groups and to speak publicly about life at Tufts was a valuable and rewarding experience that helped them build confidence and skills that they have used in their post-collegiate careers.”

Read agreed that tour guides gain important skills from the experience. She added that speaking to high school students is rewarding for her, since the college application process can be difficult.

“Being a tour guide gives me the opportunity to share a little bit about my time at Tufts with potential students. I like to think that being a tour guide allows me to be a part of the college selection process and my take can help people find a great fit for college, even if that means figuring out Tufts is not for them,” Read said. “Being a tour guide allows me to share which of my personal experiences stick with me, and maybe some of those experiences will resonate with people looking for a place to go for college. After each tour, I find myself feeling excited about Tufts and love the idea that others could be excited about it, too.”


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