We are pleased to welcome Oriana Isaacson, Associate Director of Admission at Crystal Springs Uplands School in Hillsborough, CA. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of Upper School Admissions at The Bush School in Seattle, WA, and was a member of the Undergraduate Recruitment Committee at her alma mater, Columbia University in New York, NY. She attended Harvard-Westlake in North Hollywood, CA, and vividly remembers taking the ISEE as part of the application process. She still has a copy of her scores; they are not available upon request.

Note: this article is particularly meant for Upper School admission teams and students.

In my previous post, I discussed ways to address the two biggest challenges for visit days. Now, let’s look at how to develop a well-trained cohort of students to serve as admission representatives or ambassadors.

Engage your upperclassmen: the role of the ambassador
In the schools where I have worked, we enlisted upperclassmen for leadership roles for the admission office. We called these students Ambassadors. They are students who love their school and want to make sure others love it too. They remember applying, visiting, testing, interviewing, and –the best part– they chose you!

If you spend a bit of time training your Ambassadors, they are well-equipped to pay it forward and train younger students to be admission hosts, tour guides and event volunteers. Having this training be student-to-student helps the underclassman recognize how important their role is in ensuring a positive experience for prospective families, and is often much more fun for them than just hearing information from an administrator. Ambassadors can perform skits or role plays, share stories about good and bad visits, give examples of how to best answer the most common questions, and talk about how to engage the visitor.

How to train ambassadors
When I first started the Ambassador program at the Bush School, I handpicked our Ambassadors. As the program grew, upperclassmen and “veteran” hosts voted for the new Ambassadors. At Crystal, we do formal applications and interviews. How many Ambassadors you need will depend on your school. Six was a great number for Bush in order to have two on call for each of our three visit days. At Crystal, we have twelve Ambassadors.

Your Ambassadors should accurately represent your student population and be in good standing. Run their names by your division director, or their advisors, to make sure they will be able to handle the time commitment and that there isn’t something going on that you may not know about.

For training, I direct Ambassadors to our materials and website to get them familiar with our messaging. It also helps to go over important numbers such as student-teacher ratio and the percentage of students receiving Financial Aid, facts they don’t usually know. Afterwards, I will invite them to shadow some tours and fairs so they can see what real parents and students are asking.

The hardest question from my tour guide interview when I was a student at Columbia University was: “What is the worst thing about Columbia?” I’m sure we’ve all been asked this about our schools, and I know our students are asked it on tours when we’re not around! Spinning the negative question into a positive answer isn’t hard, but it does take practice. Ask your students that question, and see what they say!

Ambassadors are real students living your school experience, so speaking from the “I” perspective is important. They should have multiple, personal stories they can share at every stop on the tour and to answer the “what’s your favorite thing about the school?” question.

However, some questions shouldn’t be answered, such as “What did you get on the ISEE?” or “What is your GPA?” It is so important to teach students how to respond to these questions appropriately yet firmly. They should know you and the admissions office support them in never answering those invasive and personal questions. I still remember standing in front of 200 people on the steps of Columbia’s Law Library being asked if I had straight A’s in high school. I replied that I got a C in Chemistry in 10th grade and yet, here I was! How was that even possible? Perhaps, and just perhaps, the admission process considered more than that one C on my transcript.

Everyone has a different story, and, as upperclassmen, your Ambassadors will understand that. They are hearing the same thing from the colleges they are visiting. Teach your Ambassadors how to best answer the “what are you looking for?” or “who really gets in?” questions based on your school.

Ambassadors are putting themselves out there on behalf of your office, and 99% of the time it is an enjoyable and rewarding experience. For the 1% of the time a visitor is too pushy, or their questions too personal, make sure the Ambassador knows they can always say “I don’t know” and bring that person straight to someone in the Admission Office.

More than just extra help
I have had the pleasure of working with some great Ambassadors who, over the course of their school years, came to live and breathe admissions like I do. These students were Open House speakers, event coordinators and even office interns. And although the occasional pizza and cupcakes helped, I truly believe they loved the work we do, and that they felt valued as pseudo-members of the Admission team.

These students, true school ambassadors, know what’s cool and what’s not. Prospective families love to talk to them. They give great tours. They have a lot of ideas. I have written internship and college recommendations for them, and some have even gone on to become tour guides in college. Maybe one or two of them will even return to campus looking for a job in one of our offices.

Developing strong relationships with these Ambassadors helps you, the admission office, better understand the energy of your campus and student body. It’s a hugely rewarding part of our job!