Tour guides work virtually, pushing boundaries for admissions


Daily file photo by Kelsey Carroll

The Weber Arch. Northwestern made new announcements about next Spring and Fall Quarter in a Thursday email.

Joshua Perry, Reporter

Since the pandemic rendered their work remote, Northwestern’s tour guides have been slowly adapting their work of introducing campus to prospective students. However, due to admissions’ fully virtual approach to outreach, their methods have entered completely new territory.

NU tour guides such as Communication junior Samara Malik were sidelined once the pandemic hit. Her job only restarted in the summer when she began co-hosting online info sessions for prospective students to meet tour guides and other theater majors like herself. Since then, Malik has been working fewer hours and taken a reduction in pay, but she said she’s glad to be back at a job she thoroughly enjoys.

“I really missed getting to know people and getting to hang out and have this thing that I love to do,” she said.

The info sessions were only the beginning, however. As time went on, tour guides’ programming became more and more creative — live Q&A sessions, welcome parties for admitted students, inside looks at housing in Willard Hall and 560 Lincoln and even a brand-new TikTok account.

The pandemic forced admissions to push the boundaries of virtual outreach, Malik said. The investment in developing robust online programming is something new to NU, she said, and the University is really leaning into it.

“They’re finding ways to take technology and slowly get back to where we were,” Malik said.

However, the switch to fully-remote operations for tour guides has not been without its challenges. Weinberg senior Adam Downing said it wasn’t too difficult for him to adjust to a new format, thanks to the oversight of tour guide coordinators and administrators working above him, but that doesn’t change how different things have become.

“It’s bizarre to move from the old format that is so personal and so in-person to one that is constrained to just 12 inches on the computer monitor,” he said.

Downing said it’s much harder to pick up on social cues, body language and levels of engagement in the audience when conducting an info session online. Attendees are also significantly less likely to give feedback or ask questions via Zoom. It’s not an ideal situation, he said.

But there are also benefits to conducting admissions outreach virtually. The use of digital platforms like Zoom, Malik said, has eliminated the financial barriers that can come with visiting campus, which she said makes the programming much more open and accessible for prospective students.

“Now, instead of giving a tour to eight to 10 people, I’m giving an info session to 80 to 100 sometimes,” she said. “So people have really been latching on to our online events.”

Being pushed online could have a lasting positive impact on the way admissions operates, Malik said. She believes digital programming has the potential to reach more prospective students and engage with them in novel ways.

Malik is not alone. Weinberg junior Madelyn Moy also believes NU should continue to complement its approach with these new tools even after the pandemic. In her view, it would give prospective students a better opportunity to explore NU.

“I hope that even after COVID is over, this is something that admissions continues to do,” Moy said. ”All these different videos and different virtual pairings where students can learn more about Northwestern and not necessarily have to come to campus.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @joshdperry

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