Imagine two scenarios:
Scenario 1: Prospective parents and students come to your school for a tour. After struggling to find parking, they wander aimlessly around your school’s perimeter searching for where they’re supposed to go. They try a couple of locked doors before they finally make their way to the main office, only to be told that they need to go to the auditorium, but once they get to the auditorium, they’re immediately told they need to sign in at the office. By the time they sit down for the presentation you’ve worked so hard to perfect, the prospective parents and students are tired, confused, and wondering if every interaction with your school is going to be this fraught.
Scenario 2: Prospective parents and students come to your school for a tour. A volunteer waves them into the parking lot, where another volunteer signs them in and leads them to the auditorium. On the way there, the volunteer talks to the family and discovers that the student is interested in your basketball team. The volunteer makes sure to assign this family to a tour lead by the captain of the basketball team, who can tell them all about the excitement of playing in last year’s all-country tournament in your new gym.
Obviously, you would prefer scenario two. The only problem is that you have a limited number of administrators and staff available to assist visiting families during the busy school day. However, you shouldn’t have to worry about having enough hands on deck for even the most crowded tour or applicant event. You have an amazing resource eager to jump in and help every prospective family feel at home. That resource is your students.
Of course, you can’t simply assign students to be your ambassadors like it’s another chemistry problem set. To show prospective families how great your students can be, you have to set your student ambassadors up for success.
They’re Judging Your Students Whether You Like It or Not
Just as a car salesperson is only as good as the models on his or her showroom floor, a school is only as good as its students. It doesn’t matter what you say about your educational philosophy, test scores, facilities, or history of academic excellence. When a prospective family reflects on their experience at your school, what they are going to remember most is the young people sitting behind the desks. Do they look happy? Are they engaged? And, most of all, do they look like the kind of student I want my child (or myself) to be a year from now?
Whether or not you select and train student ambassadors, every visitor to your school will judge you by your students, so it’s in your interest to put your best foot forward and show the world just how great your students are.
Choosing Student Ambassadors
Some students are born leaders. The heads of student government, captains of sports teams, the editor of the school paper, and the leaders of student clubs are natural choices for student ambassadors. However, most schools only have so many big men and women on campus, and if your prospective family events are large enough, you may quickly run out of star students to put forward. However, many schools have several pools of students who will be more than excited to help out. These include:
Drama Club – They’re outgoing, they can remember their lines, and they love attention. It doesn’t matter if they played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz or if they were Munchkin #5. Greeting students and leading tours is a chance for them to shine. Remember, there are no small parts, only small actors.
Cheerleaders – They’ve got spirit, yes they do, and now they’ll make it work for you. Passion is infectious, and if a student can get a stadium on their feet, they can get a tour group excited for your school.
Speech and Debate – Resolved: Your school is perfect for all your prospective families. Students involved in speech and debate are quick on their feet, persuasive, and, most important, willing to go to the mat for a school they believe in.
Train Student Ambassadors to Be Themselves
Prospective families can tell a canned answer when they hear it. While you don’t want your student ambassadors to go too far off your core messages, you also don’t want them to sound overly scripted. This is why you must empower your student ambassadors to speak to their own experiences and to tell their own stories.
Instead of feeding your student ambassadors the answers, prepare them to answer certain questions:
- What specifically about this school lead you to choose it?
- What specific moment from the last school year will you remember for your entire life?
- Which specific person (teacher, coach, counselor, or even another student) at this school has changed the trajectory of your life?
These are all big questions, but they have one thing in common: specificity. Reciting your school’s statistics on college admissions doesn’t have anywhere near the impact of hearing a student tell his or her own story of coming to a school, being inspired by a teacher, and getting into the college of his or her dreams.
Of course, not every student is ready to do this at a moment’s notice. Have them practice telling their own stories before you ever put them in front of a group. Or better yet, have them write out their stories as part of a competition where the winners get to become the ambassadors. If the students know the prize involves getting to miss class, they’ll be extra motivated.
Let Students Play to Their Strengths
Not every student can speak to every aspect of your school, and that’s fine. In fact, it might make sense to select students with specialized interests to show off the parts of your school they know the most about. Instead of having students lead a general tour of your entire facility, you can place students with specialized interests and knowledge in the locations where they are most familiar and let tours come to them.
Did you just install a new pool? Station the captain of your swim team there and have her extoll its virtues to every tour group on campus that day.
Don’t Expect Students to Have All the Answers
Of course, prospective families will have a lot of nuts and bolts questions that your student ambassadors might not be able to answer. Questions about applications and financial aid are best left to the administrators and staff whose job it is to manage those programs. If your student ambassadors don’t know how to answer a question, it’s fine for them to say so. As long as they can point prospective families to the right individual to handle the query, it will be fine.
For five days a week, nine months a year, your school imbues your students with more than just knowledge. You are creating a culture of learning and a community of scholars. Your students are your greatest asset. Let them show the world just how great your school can be.