Lessons from Week One

Now more than ever, university recruiters have a responsibility to be honest with prospective students

The shine has come off the new academic year, and that means it’s time for universities to start visiting high schools across the country. For yours truly, it meant an 8-hour drive to Toronto from Lennoxville, ending at the downtown apartment I’ll call home until the end of October. From here, I’ll be canvassing the Greater Toronto Area, before heading west to Regina, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

While I’ve written previously about the high-tech ways in which universities pursue students, individual school visits remain incredibly important. A recent article in Ad Age talked about the multi-billion dollar ad campaigns schools like UCLA have undertaken to bring in more students. I finished the article convinced that marketing and advertising were of paramount importance in higher education. That is, until I read the comments section, in which “university people” talked about the fact that personal relationships remain the most important way they can help students choose a university. After all, students aren’t buying an iPod, or picking out a pair of shoes; they’re making a serious decision that will cost upwards of $40,000 and have a lasting impact on their career, lifestyle, and friendships.

With these weighty things in mind, I rocketed out of the parking garage early Friday morning, bound for Upper Canada College. I should mention that if you are lucky enough to come across Bishop’s Dodge Caliber – affectionately nicknamed the “Gaitermobile” – feel free to wave. I arrived at UCC, set up my banner and promo materials, and proceeded to have a great discussion with UCC’s Head of Guidance, David Matthews. The guidance counsellors I met with at UCC, North Toronto, and Branksome Hall reminded me of the pressure GC’s are under on a daily basis. As senior students shift their attention toward choosing a university, counsellors are inundated with requests for assistance. They are responsible for helping students recognize the school that would best serve their long-term goals, even if those goals may shift over the four years the student is away. It’s a daunting task, to say the least. Thankfully, I think the students at the three schools I visited are in good hands, with people like David Matthews and Susan Bates aiding them in this important decision.

So what did I learn in my first week? I think, more than ever, university recruiters have a responsibility to be honest with prospective students. In today’s economy, universities are going to fight to bring students in. With the demographic dip looming for university-age Canadians, the battle will continue to be fierce.

Don’t get me wrong: If I think you’re the kind of person who should attend BU, I’ll do everything I can to make sure you end up there. But if you’re looking for a program or experience unavailable in Lennoxville, I’m not going to waste your time or tuition dollars convincing you of something you’ll likely reject in the end. As a student heading off to university, ask your guidance counsellors for help finding the right fit, so that you can build a short list of schools right away. Once you build that list, have a frank discussion with the recruiters from that university about your goals, priorities, and the life you want to live both during and after university. From there, you can start to get some idea of which school would best fit your needs.

That’s all for this morning. See you out there!