Selling Queen’s

How the University markets itself to high school applicants

TOrONTO—Thousands of high school students clog escalators and jostle through halls, their expressions ranging from anxiety to exhilaration to total bemusement. representatives at booths eagerly promote their wares with booklets, pens and T-shirts. No, it’s not a mall, or a major sporting event; it’s the Ontario universities Fair, where 20 post-secondary institutions from around the province set up shop for a weekend to get their message out to high school students.

For Queen’s admissions services, it’s probably the single largest recruiting event of the year.

Over the three days, 120 Queen’s staff and volunteers went to Toronto’s Metro convention centre to promote the university. James Wood, Sci ’08 and a volunteer at the fair, said he came to help high school students make what can be a difficult decision. “I think Queen’s is a great school, and I want people to have the best information about it so they can make the best decision,” he said. “I remember when I was walking through the university fair and I talked to a Queen’s electrical engineer, and that helped a lot to get a better idea of what it’s like at Queen’s.” Wood was one of many Queen’s representatives at the university’s booth: a display meant to recreate university avenue. Wood said too much emphasis is placed on issues like grades and Queen’s reputation.

“I think people are really wrong about reputation,” he said. “I’ve heard people ask, ‘Is Queen’s
considered a good school?’ you can get a good education anywhere.” Wood said he thinks this preoccupation is due to parental pressure and worries about competition in the job market.

“I think it’s just human nature to worry about reputation,” he said. “I think environments like this will open people’s eyes to what’s important when you’re making a decision.”

Kristin Konieczny, Physed ’07, said she came to the fair after receiving an e-mail from the Physical education students’ association looking for volunteers. “I love being in this type of environment,” she said. “It’s an overwhelming experience and I remember being in the same spot.” Konieczny said prospective students askedher primarily about marks.

“They overlook things like the atmosphere,” she said. “It’s just drilled into everyone’s head. We should really be developing ourselves as people, as opposed to someone who’s just able to remember facts.”
Tenay Gunter, a school of business administrative assistant, said she got a lot of questions about dmission and marksrequirements, but she thinks it’s natural at this stage in the application process. “I think in high school they’re warned they want to make sure they retain that ark,” she said. “I think when they get more into their application program, that’s when they’re more interested in student life.”

Wildred de Vega and Matthew chiapetta, Grade 11 students at st. Michael’s choir school, said they came to the fair to get a head start on their decision and keep their options open. “Both the Grade 11 and 12 classes are here. Our guidance counselor wants us to get a head start so we’re not pressured to find a university,” he said. Meanwhile, a PowerPoint presentation flashed images from the university’s 2007 promotional pamphlet, extolling its tradition, diversity, academics, student involvement, atmosphere and international opportunities. Nicholas snider, manager of student recruitment, said because most people don’t know Kingston well, one of the presentation’s objectives is to emphasize the city’s strong points.“That’s something we’ve really tried to emphasize more this year, trying to play up its funky aspects,” he said. The presentation also focuses on diversity, describing Queen’s as “one tartan, many threads” and “tradition, not traditional.” “Diversity is huge,” snider said. “because perception is reality, and if people think Queen’s is a WASP-y school, we have
a problem.”

Grade 12 students Kate Payne and Katherine Pepin attended one of the Queen’s presentations. Before the presentation, both said they liked what they knew so far about the university. Payne, who visited Queen’s campus, said she liked that it was smaller and more intimate than schools like the university of Toronto. Both Payne and Pepin said they were disappointed with the video presentation.

“It was basically the same as the [viewbook],” Payne said. Pepin agreed. “I’ve got all the same questions I had after reading the book. It didn’t tell me anything new.” For Queen’s, the fair was one of many efforts to recruit high school students. Danyal Martin, ConEd ’04 and admission co-ordinator, said student recruitment is a major undertaking of tours, high school visits and a university viewbook with carefully crafted messages about Queen’s. Martin said the university has four overall messages for prospective students: academic excellence, a residential sense of community, student involvement and international opportunities.

“All of our presentations are either expanded or truncated versions of those four points.”

Martin said issues like the Homecoming 2005 street paty have affected recruitment style, but not prospective student behaviour. “In the short term, [Homecoming 2005] caused us some stress,” she aid, adding that parents were more likely to comment on it during information sessions than before the party received national attention.

“One problem was there was a lot of high school students who had been at Homecoming, and were interested in applying because of that,” she said. “It was something for us to be aware of and it was too bad, because it meant we were cautious about bringing up Homecoming.” Martin said part of recruitment is demystifying the process for students. “Applying to university is an incredibly stressful process,” she said. “There’s this perception that universities are these rigid things and it’s a cold environment … and that’s not true.”

Immediately following the fair, 14 recruiters set out to visit almost 750 high schools across Ontario, canada and the world. The representatives visiting high schools undergo two months of training.

They meet with groups on campus, including residence Life, campus security and Food services, and attend public speaking workshops and cultural sensitivity training. “They have to know everything about campus,” Martin said. “When you’re out on the road, you represent Queen’s in terms of your access to information. If someone comes up to you with a question, the idea is you’ll know the answer.” Martin said recruiters keep a record of their visits and the questions students ask to prepare their presentations for the following year.

“It’s a lot about establishing relationships with the schools and the counselors,” she said. “It’s nice to have that connection.” Katie Ansell, ArtSci ’06, is a Queen’s recruiter and attended the fair for the weekend. “I’ve always wanted to do this, ever since I came to the fair,” she said. “I really like it:
I like Queen’s, I get to talk about something that I like.”

Ansell recently completed her training and will depart shortly for her tour of Ontario high schools.
She said she’ll be keeping track of student responses at each school visit. “We’re keeping track of stats, so we know at a particular school they’re more interested in these programs … so we know going
into it there are going to be 10 people or 60 people,” she said. Campus tours are a year-round facet of
student recruitment at the university. although they’re held twice daily from Monday through Friday hroughout the year, Martin said the influx of visitors tends to be greatest during Fall Preview—in late October and early November—and March break. Martin said the university receives 9,000 to 10,000 visitors each year. Although most of these are high school students, Martin said, parents are becoming
more involved when it comes to choosing a university. Parents are really becoming more involved in the process,” she said. “[But] it’s rare when you’ll see just parents without a student.” “People will bring the entire family—younger siblings, older siblings, aunts, uncles.”

Martin said recruitment encourages students to visit the campus. “I really think the only way you can see what makes Queen’s distinct … is to get here on campus,” she said. Aimee Roy, ArtSci ’08, recently completed her first campus tour as a guide.

“It was really fun; it went really well,” she said. Roy said she has wanted to be a tour guide since she attended a tour as a high school student.

“When I was looking for universities, I was really excited about the whole process,” she said. “I think it’s very important to be that first familiar face.” Before becoming a guide, Roy had to apply and be interviewed, as well as go through diversity training and familiarize herself with the campus.

Roy said she doesn’t censor what she says to prospective students during her tours. “What kind of feeling would that be, to come to a place and have it all have been a lie?”

Roy said the strangest question she’s been asked on a tour was whether there had ever been public executions in the biosciences complex.

“I was just kind of taken aback for a second ... I kept thinking, was that in our viewbook? did I skip that part?”

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