Courtney Steele went through a rigorous application, interview and training process for her job. She says her position requires her to be knowledgeable, accessible, authentic and enthusiastic. That position is campus tour guide for Southern Methodist University.

Steele belongs to a new breed of campus guides who aim to more competitively recruit during a time when high school graduates are increasingly selective about where they will spend their next four years.

“For the amount of time you spend with them, the impact is huge, “ said Steele. “You reinforce what the brochures, website and admissions counselors say, but you're also living the experience they're hearing about.”

Many schools aren’t leaving that impact up to chance. Trent Gilbert is chief experience officer for TargetX. He says about 250 schools across the country enlist the help of his company to stage tours that will be memorable and engaging for prospective students.


“High school kids want to find their tribe,” said Gilbert. “They want to know three questions: Can I live with these people? Can I be friends with these people? Can I date these people?”

The answers often lie within the campus tour guide. They are trained to field questions about every aspect of life at their school. Steele, whose college is not a client of TargetX, says those topics can often make or break a student’s perception of the campus.

“This includes the food, traditions, what students do on the weekend and if they're going to fit in and have fun. If your school has any sort of a stereotype, families will ask about,” said Steele.

The recession has also played a major role in the decision by many schools to develop a more competitive campus tour. Students and parents are more inclined to shop around before deciding where to spend thousands of dollars in tuition, prompting colleges to tweek every detail of the campus visit.

“Visit numbers have increased as the economy declined,” said Gilbert. “Families understand that they can shop around and that it’s a buyer’s market.”

Gilbert predicts that as colleges continue to scramble to fill their enrollment quotas in the future, even more emphasis will be put on the campus tour. It is, he says, one of the most important factors to today's student and the key is often in the guide.

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