BOSTON — I love being a campus tour guide. At Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., we have to wear red-and-white-striped shirts while leading prospective students and their parents around. Sure, I look like a dork (or Waldo, the cartoon guy no one can ever find), but I thrive on the job anyway.
Mainly, I love having the chance to interact with people who are interested in one of my passions: Rhodes. I applied to this private, Oxford-like campus early admission, and I can't imagine being anywhere else. Among its benefits: the professors are always available, everybody is laid back, there's a great sense of community, and it has a strong honor code.
But being a tour guide is not the easiest job on campus and for the pay (zilch), a lot of people would never do it. I do it because I get to talk about Rhodes for an hour to a captive audience. I have to know a lot about the school's history, and I'm well-versed on all the fields of study and all the opportunities we afford "Rhodents."
I've also developed one of the most important abilities a guide can have: walking backward. After only a year of leading weekly tours, I can now walk backward as quickly as I can forward.
A lot of students sign up to be guides just to pad their rsums, and they are surprised at my eagerness to sub for them (which usually costs me about $6 in lost wages at my "real" job in the media-relations department). On open-house days, my tour-guide boss thinks I am nuts for being so excited so early in the morning. I gladly run out in front of the gates, trying to flag people down.
Every week during the school year I see a new bunch of people and I try to impart my knowledge of Rhodes to them. I also try to make them feel at ease, because touring colleges can get repetitive quickly. After all, how many times can you listen to how beautiful, how prestigious, how academically challenging a college is.
Rhodes makes my job a little easier. The Princeton Review's guide to US colleges has ranked Rhodes as one of the most beautiful for the last three years. The breathtaking gothic buildings are all similar, so I don't have to explain different styles of architecture. I do stop my tour groups for pop-quizzes, and until someone gets the answer, we don't move. After the first quiz, most people are on the ball - especially if the weather is bad.
I get lots of questions every tour and I enjoy answering them. But here are a few not to ask. Don't ask me about drinking and drugs. Like most tour guides, I'm not going to make my school out to be a druggie heaven or a perpetual AA meeting. Also, college food is college food and my likes and your likes are probably not the same. As for dorm life, I can tell you about the room I am showing you, but I'd estimate that there are more than 20 different configurations on my small (500 room) campus; the best thing is if a student stays overnight and finds out what one "feels" like.
Students should ask what percentage of the campus is Greek (in fraternities and sororities), for example. This is important because some people might not want to be on a campus dominated by Greek life. Another good question: hours for computer labs and libraries.
Whether it's a group of 50 or of one, I give each tour all I have. Some people may consider it hard work, but I enjoy it so much, I have to remind myself sometimes that I only have an hour.
* Andrew Shulman is a junior studying political science at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. This summer he is writing for the Washington (D.C.) Times.