Showing and telling BU, starring the students who live it
By Meghan Dorney
Many high school students considering attending Boston University get their first glimpse of the Charles River Campus on a tour led by a BU undergraduate just a few years older than themselves. As they stroll past Bay State Road’s stately brownstones, young people socializing on the lawn known as the BU Beach, and the bustling crowds on Commonwealth Avenue, the questions start to pour out: How do you get around campus? What’s security like? Are the dorm rooms big? Are professors accessible? Will I feel like a number in the crowd? Is the food good?
Tour guides must provide confident and accurate answers if prospective students are to make an informed decision about whether to choose the University. “I don’t try to tell everyone that BU is for them,” says Jonathan Shmidt (CAS’04), who has given campus tours since freshman year. “Tour guides at a lot of other schools will tell you that type of thing, but you have to realize that BU is a city school, and that’s not for everyone. Hopefully, when people see the school and get a feel for what it’s like, they get excited.”
Because tour guides play a critical role in student recruitment, showcasing the University to approximately 30,000 visitors annually, the Admissions Office prepares them thoroughly. The guides undergo nearly a month of intensive training before leading a tour on their own. They listen to 30-to-60-minute presentations about BU’s colleges, departments, and programs, and they receive a thick manual full of facts and figures about the University’s residence and dining halls, libraries, gyms, and computer labs.
By the time the guides lead a tour, they’ve already shadowed more experienced colleagues and given several mock tours. They’ve also participated in public speaking exercises and practiced walking backwards for at least one hour. “We do an average of seven miles backwards a week,” says Shmidt. “A chiropractor on one of my tours said that it’s really good for your back. So I guess I’m doing something right.”
Finally, they’re ready to strut their stuff: they can tell visitors about the more than 400 student clubs on campus, how a third of students study abroad and 75 percent of undergraduates live on campus all four years, and that Mugar Memorial Library contains 2.2 million volumes and original writings by Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59), Walt Whitman, Bette Davis, and several U.S. presidents. They know that there is a 14-1 student-faculty ratio, that Warren Towers has 43 study lounges, that the Daily Free Press, the student newspaper, has the fourth largest circulation in Boston, and that the BU Beach has wireless Internet access.
“It’s a lot of information to remember, especially at first,” says tour guide Erica Weber (CAS’05). “But once you get into it, you learn where to look in the manual for information and for answers to certain questions.”
President’s Hosts, student volunteers who represent BU at such special events as open houses, matriculation, and Commencement, serve as tour guides during the academic year. The Admissions Office pays full-time student tour guides over the summer. Approximately 150 students this year filled out lengthy applications and sat through rigorous group and individual interviews for a shot at one of 15 open positions.
“These students are the single most important component to our on-campus recruiting process,” says Jacqueline Serafino, associate director of the Admissions Office. “They show prospective students and their families that there are students here who are absolutely thriving.”
Shmidt says he became a tour guide for exactly that reason; he enjoys discussing his college experience and tries to impress upon visitors that although BU’s size may be intimidating initially, it also has advantages.
“There are a lot of myths about BU, like that it’s impersonal,” he says. “I was definitely skeptical about coming to BU because of that, but after seeing what it was like as a freshman, I wanted to tell people that BU is much more of a campus than people sometimes think.”
Weber hesitated to choose BU, she says, because her brother had attended and she wanted to follow her own path. But her visits to BU while considering colleges got her hooked. “Other schools didn’t seem to care as much how your visit went,” she recalls. “At BU, there was a warm atmosphere, and that’s what I wanted.”