Walking backwards

Groups of starry-eyed, sometimes confused and frightened looking high school students wander around the campus with one thought in their heads: How does this person give a tour of GW while walking backwards and not run into anyone?

The students seen around campus leading groups of prospective students are tour guides for the Student Tour Admissions Representative program. The representatives, known as STARs, are responsible for giving daily walking tours to the more than 20,000 visitors to campus each year. STARs assist the admissions office in the pre-tour information sessions, give trolley tours of the city and often have lunch with the prospective students.

“My senior year (of high school), my tour guide definitely played a big part in my decision to attend (GW),” said freshman Christine Bestor, who is now training to be a STAR.

Many students, especially freshmen, recall their tour experience fondly and credit unique aspects of the tour for their decision to attend GW.

“I liked that the STARs took us into classrooms and dorms, but the thing that really stood out is that GW allows prospects and their families to take a trolley tour around the city. I thought that was cool,” freshman Scott Farbish said.

Melanie Gordon, a junior STAR, notes that these tours can be as memorable for the guide as they are for the prospective freshmen.
“I’ve had some people ask me some really strange questions,” she said. “One time a guy who was a junior in high school asked me what time (hotdog vendor) Manouch came out. I was like, ‘how do you know who Manouch is?'”

Other popular questions among prospective students include where and how to get a fake ID and why there are so many shoes in the trees outside of the Delta Tau Delta house.
“I don’t spread the urban legend,” Gordon said about the rumor fraternity members throw their shoes in the tree after getting together with the same girl. “I just tell them that some frats and sororities have their own traditions.”

STARs play a major role in recruiting students and so the process of becoming a STAR is not an easy one. Students wishing to become a STAR must attend an information session held in the beginning of October. Students then have the opportunity to talk to current STARs, ask general questions about the program, and get a feel for whether or not they would make a good tour guide. Students then begin the application and interview process. Qualified applicants attend a group interview and some are asked to return for an individual interview before the final selections are made.

“We had about 200 applicants for the STAR program this fall and we invited about 85 of those applicants to join the program,” said Tim Townley, co-coordinator of the STAR program.

The STAR program was originally organized in the early 1980s and only had about 20 tour guides. The current STAR program has grown to include almost 200 active tour guides and seems to be accomplishing its goal of increasing interest in GW. As of Feb. 1, the admissions office had already received more than 17,000 applications, a new record.

“I think the popularity of the program is due to the reciprocal nature of tours. We’ve been able to recruit great STARs who give great tours. Prospective students enjoy their tours and want to do the same thing when they come to GW,” Townley said.

“I was one of those kids who crammed in the Georgetown, American, and GW tour all in one weekend,” freshman Lizzy Turkevich said. “But my tour at GW with a STAR is the only one that remains clear in my mind.”

Bestor, who begins her STAR training in February, said she also believes strongly in the program.

“I think the campus tour gives a glance into what GW is actually like, something that a view book cannot do. The STAR gives a more personal view of the school, and I feel that the tour is often a deciding factor for many potential students,” she said.

Farbish, who will be training alongside Bestor next month, is quick to point out that there are many pieces to the college selection puzzle.

“While the tours were helpful, the thing that really sold me on GW was an information session with two students and Admissions Representative Bob Herr in my hometown,” Farbish said.

Kathryn Monahan, also a freshman, said that she felt more connected to the campus after her tour.

“The tour gave me a greater sense of community and security. I got a great sense of the campus and the student population,” she said.

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