Student ambassadors help shape prospective students’ impressions of a campus. In a guest post today, Annette Jelinek provides some tips on running a student-ambassador program. Ms. Jelinek, welcome center coordinator at the University of St. Francis, in Illinois, is scheduled to present on this topic during the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling in Toronto this week.
Campus tours are an important part of the college-search process. Many prospective students, research tells us, make their choice based largely on the tour and the feel they get for the school. This places a big responsibility on campus tour guides—and on their advisers.
I have been advising the University of St. Francis ambassador program for 10 years. During that time, our group has grown from 20 ambassadors to 45 as the number of visits and events has increased.
One of the key components of a successful ambassador program is training. Training is an ongoing process—it doesn’t just occur at the beginning of the year. At the University of St. Francis, we do a kick-off training in August, hold another training day in January before the start of the spring semester, and have more training in monthly meetings throughout the year. We bring in speakers from academic and administrative departments to enhance our ambassadors’ knowledge of the university. Ambassadors need to be knowledgeable and up-to-date at all times so they can provide top-notch tours to our prospective students.
I have also found it very valuable to solicit the input from my ambassadors to find out what they liked and disliked at training and to see what they felt was missing. Our training events are continually revised and revamped based on their input and feedback.
Ambassadors are an integral part of the recruiting process. They are key players who put a lot of time and energy into giving tours, working in the office, and helping with various events around campus. At the same time, they are still college students with academic responsibilities. So it is important to keep them pumped up and energized and make them feel appreciated.
We show our appreciation to our Saints Ambassadors in numerous ways. We have a recognition program where they earn points for giving tours and working events. The top three point-earners are recognized at the end of each semester. In addition, we also have another very special and fun way to recognize our ambassadors, and that is through our “Box of Fun!” It is simply a decorated cardboard box with slips of paper that the ambassadors can pull from. Sample items in the box include breakfast or lunch with the leadership team member of their choice, a gift card, and the one they like best: coming in late to an event.
The Box of Fun is utilized at our monthly meetings to recognize ambassadors who have gone above and beyond and have given our guests the “pickle” (a term we use from a training video we watch every year called “Give ’Em the Pickle”). As the video teaches, pickles are the special things you do for your customers to keep them coming back, take care of them, make them happy, and make them your No. 1 priority. Every business and organization needs to find its pickle, master it, and encourage its employees to use it.
I have a great passion for my ambassadors, whom I refer to as “my kids.” They are the highlight of my day and the joy of my job. Being a part of the ambassador program at the University of St. Francis has been the best experience of my professional career. The knowledge and experience students gain from being an ambassador will also help them in their personal and professional lives. I have had numerous ambassador alumni come back to say thank you for the experience, and they have expressed how every aspect of being an ambassador prepared them for their careers and made them valuable to their new employers. It’s a very rewarding experience to see your investment in these students pay off, not only for our university but in their own lives as well.