Tour Guides Give Prospective Students First Glimpse of Campus


Tywen Kelly

Photo by Tywen Kelly

North Bennett

With acceptance letters sent and the National College Decision Day looming on May 1, the Whitman College Class of 2020 admission season is barreling towards a climactic finish. As prospective students flock to campus in varied states of panicked excitement, Whitman’s 50 tour guides strive to ease their anxieties by making their first impression a positive one. However, in order to do so effectively, lot of work happens behind the scenes.

According to Admission Officer Justin Gutzwa, the tour guide program begins with a three-stage hiring process each fall, which includes a written application, a mock tour and an interview with a hiring panel from the Admissions Office. Getting the job is highly competitive; in terms of percentages, the tour guide program is more selective than the college itself.  

Photo by Tywen Kelly
Tywen Kelly
Photo by Tywen Kelly

“We’ve seen an uptick in applications. This year we got almost one hundred applications for tour guides, and we only had availability to hire like 14 to 16 people, which is kind of why we need to expand the [hiring] process and whittle down into smaller and smaller groups because everyone is so incredible that applies,” Gutzwa said.         

Once the hiring process ends, tour guide recruits receive a handbook complete with facts about the College’s various buildings and programs, as well as a prescribed route for them to lead tours–backward walking required–through. They also receive several trainings throughout the year about new programs offered by the College. The information provided on the tours is mostly scripted, but guides are encouraged to offer personal anecdotes throughout the tour. However, the Admissions Office does place limits on what tour guides are allowed to say.

“We don’t bring up alcohol. Unless a parent or somebody asks us a question, we won’t talk about it.  The same goes for drug use on campus. If any bad events have happened on campus, we are not going to talk about those. But that’s really the only things that we are not supposed to talk about,” said senior tour guide Meredith Ruff.

If visitors do ask questions about such topics, or about other sensitive issues such as campus demographics, tour guides are trained to emphasize the positive aspects of everything.

“We try to portray everything as positive, but you can’t glorify everything that’s happening at Whitman at all times, especially when students ask about things like racial diversity or socioeconomic diversity, so I do tell them the truth, but [I] try to tell them the best part of the truth that there is,” Ruff said.

In spite of their focus on the positive aspects of Whitman, junior tour guides Maya Baker-Freid and Nathan Gruenberg, as well as Gutzwa all highlighted the program’s commitment to giving prospective students and their parents an honest perspective on Whitman College.

“I don’t like to really sugarcoat anything. I think being honest … is really important to give an accurate representation of the college. I think that’s the most important thing, to be truthful about your experience on campus. So definitely I don’t feel like I have to reserve anything, because I think representing Whitman is representing both sides of it,” Baker-Freid said.  

At the same time, tour guides are representing the Admissions Office, whose main priority is to recruit the best group of students possible.

“I think it is kind of a sales job … Not necessarily in what information you’re giving, but more how you present it and how you come off to the group you’re giving a tour to,” Gruenburg said.  

Even with all of the training that tour guides undergo, they cannot always be perfectly prepared for the variegated, unpredictably odd happenings on Whitman’s campus. Disastrous car crashes, couches on the roof of Jewett and more have all been occurrences that have challenged tour guides’ ability to roll with the events surrounding them.

“[Most] things that happen are completely new to me when I encounter them on campus giving the tour, so I usually have no explanation. I usually just say, ‘Oh, the hijinks that college students get up to,’” Baker-Freid said.