As 2019 comes to an end, thousands of high school seniors and their families begin to focus on post-graduation plans. For many, this includes deciding on colleges, but what goes into that decision? Most take into account the academic and financial aspects of prospective schools—meeting with counselors and financial aid officers—but there’s a secret admission tool that really impacts a students final decision.
As Stephanie Williams, a senior student at Aurora University, states, “sometimes hearing [about a university] from a counselor isn’t enough for a student; sometimes they have to hear it from an actual student.”
Despite the fact that student outreach programs like tour guides, telecounselors, and counselor aids exist, many universities don’t utilize their full potential.
Aurora University and its Spartan Ambassador Program are closing the gap between potential and current students in a unique way.
Joel Ortega, Director of Freshman Enrollment at Aurora University, says their program “touches base on everything,” and that they “do a phenomenal job at training so that our ambassadors here understand how the entire [college] process works.”
Spartan Ambassadors blend the professional and personal aspects of university life, creating, as Ortega titles them, “mini-counselors.”
These “mini-counselors” not only give tours and counsel potential students from a current student’s perspective but they also assist counselors directly in their enrollment efforts.
Ambassadors work within the Office of Admissions doing outreach work; letters, postcards, texts, and phone calls. Ortega explains that both counselors and ambassadors advise “students through the [admission] process and really try to figure out if [Aurora University] is a good fit for them. Whether that’s academically, financially, or emotionally.” Ambassadors work with, not just alongside, counselors to help potential students.
“Our ambassadors here, I mean, they do so much for us on a day to day basis, I would be lost without mine,” explains Sarah Winker, Nursing Admission Counselor at Aurora University. Winker has worked in higher education for almost six years and in that time she has noted a big difference in how universities use their ambassadors. Her previous institution “did not utilize [their] ambassadors as well as we do here at Aurora University, they primarily just did tours and events and didn’t really help with any tasks around the office.”
Outside of working with admission counselors, Ambassadors give tours to prospective students.
Nicholas Olds, a senior marketing major at Aurora University, talks about the influence of a tour guide, saying, “I don’t think I would have come to Aurora University if I didn’t have a tour.” Olds goes onto say that the combined experience of seeing campus, talking to faculty, and his tour guides student perspective, significantly impacted his college decision.
“I was really comfortable because I was getting a tour from a student—a current student—so I believed everything they were saying to me,” Olds explains, which is an experience shared by fellow student and current Spartan Ambassador Stephanie Williams.
When Williams first visited Aurora University, it was not in her top list of schools. In fact, the only reason she looked at AU was because her mother forced her to. Once Williams stepped onto campus, however, Aurora University became her number one choice. But what changed her mind?
Williams was given a tour by someone with her major—elementary education—who spoke “all about her experience and what the education program did for her,” and that “really stood out to me.”
As a current Spartan Ambassador Williams works hard to give potential students the same level of dedication that she was shown by her tour guide. Williams, who is also a Residential Assistant, says that “I actually have two twins that live next door to me that I gave a tour to during spring break, on a Saturday morning. They drove 3 and a half hours for that tour, and they tell me every day that I’m the reason that they came to AU.”
There’s power in student to student connections, as Olds says “I’d rather get a students perspective rather than what I think an adult would be trained to say.” But connecting and helping potential students isn’t the only significant aspect of being an Ambassador.
The Spartan Ambassador Program blends a lot of roles and responsibilities together, creating “min-counselors”, but this blend also allows ambassadors to gain a wide variety of skills.
Willaims explains that the program “gives me leadership skills, allows me to be creative, and helps a lot with my communication skills,” beyond that the program also helps her understand “how to be professional in an office and interact with people.”
These skills being built are not just essential for everyday life but can follow students into their career paths. Ortega says “I think the professionalism [the ambassadors] all show during tours is phenomenal,” and that they are “an essential function to the success of our overall enrollment.”
Even potential students notice the degree to which Spartan Ambassadors have developed certain skills. Winker, who meets with some families after their tours, recalls that potential students and their families “have said that they’re super informative, super friendly and helpful,” she then adds that ambassadors “are truly the face of the university.”
Aurora University sets an example on how to engage with potential students using already existing programs in the most unique way. Spartan Ambassadors work as “mini-counselors” and are often one of the more influential “faces of the university”. The fact that they are current students gives them a level of personability and credibility that counselors alone can’t offer students. Aurora University utilizes its program in a way that sets it apart, as Ortega states “we hear a lot from other students that come in, especially after they’ve already visited a different school that same day, and the type of service that we offer is night and day.”