Admissions responds to feedback on Arcadian tours

Fulford Hall, The Office of Admissions, located on University Avenue. Photo courtesy of

By Emma Howell
Staff Writer

Over the summer, the Office of Admissions changed the Sewanee campus tour outline.  This change came in response to feedback from students and tour guides who suggested that the old tour be significantly revised. 

Seven years ago, a tour outline was written by administration for the Office of Admission. The tour largely focused on “community stories,” anecdotes concerning alumni or donors to the University.

“A number of our tour guides resigned, because they disliked the script so much,” Maria Watters, campus visit coordinator, (C’93) said. “They really felt it was very scripted.”

While donors and alumni are important to the Arcadian program and the Office of Admissions, tour guides didn’t understand why focus was placed on donor contributions in the tour, when other parts of the school held more relevance to their university experience. Prospective students taken on the tour also didn’t respond well to the community-stories-centered approach.

“It… isn’t what our visitors want to hear. I know it’s not what our students want to talk about,” said Watters. “Why should we give them stories when they have their own?”

In response to the negative feedback, the Office of Admission collaborated last February with a tour audit company, Render Experiences, who agreed that the tour needed revision. 

“They said the biggest thing you’re overlooking are your students,” Watters said.

In response, Admissions organized eight focus groups with 15 to 20 Sewanee students. Over the summer, the four interns working for the office analyzed the students’ responses and used them to put together a new tour.  

“We tried to look at it fairly scientifically and break that data down,” Watters said, “And say, “Okay, how many times did somebody say the word [Sewanee Outing Program]? How many times have somebody saying the word residence hall? Let’s make sure we hit those points and are incorporating what our student volunteers think is really important.”

The outline that was eventually created will take prospective students from the Wellness Center, which tour guides will be able to lead students into starting in November.  From there, they’ll stop by McClurg and Gailor Hall, then loop around the Spencer and Woods Laboratories. Visitors will then enter DuPont Library, and be shown the Speaking and Listening Centers. Tours will stop at McGriff Alumni House to discuss the impact that alumni have on Sewanee. Finally, they’ll stop at a dorm showroom at either Smith or Cannon Hall.

“The new tour script makes it possible to present our visitors with a more thorough image of the University. We don’t have to lead the groups all the way out to Fowler, which was especially unpleasant in January, but we can use the time wisely to share more of our personal stories related to Sewanee,” said Arcadian leader Szonja Szurop (C’22).

“What our visitors are really concerned about what, our families are concerned about are “Where are we going to play? Where are we going to work out? Where are we going to eat? Where can we get food on campus? That’s mission critical,” Watters said.

This new tour was taught to current tour guides during the last week of August in a two-day training seminar.  It focuses much more on the tour guides’ stories about their own time at Sewanee.

“I feel committed to making sure that any tour that we roll out, has a lot of student voice in it,” Watters said. “It’s important for staff members to step away and act as advisors, which we technically are, and have it be really a student run organization.”

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