A Brief History of the UVM AdvoCats

“AdvoCat-led tours are very important to prospective UVM students. We think high school students visit colleges and universities in hopes to find a school where they could ‘see’ themselves for four years,” said AdvoCat leaders Kim Howard and Susie Kwon.

“So, the AdvoCats are living and breathing a UVM life and for that next 90 minutes on tour, their life becomes a display. The tour guide group as a whole is well-informed about what this place does and does not have to offer. If you put those two elements together, you find that the combination of knowledge about our campus along with their own personal stories and experience make this school come alive for the prospectives. Not every school is for everyone. Prospectives need to visit campuses so they can make those conclusions.”

Staff can give information, but nothing can take the place of the energy that a student brings to a conversation when sharing their experiences. AdvoCats are paid according to their length of service –$450 for the first semester and $50 additional thereafter per semester (up to a maximum of $600). “Student are paid, in part, because they do a lot hard work!” said Kwon. Students do much more than simply give tours; they host information sessions, lead panels, attend training days in the summer and also correspond with prospective students via email and such. AdvoCats may also help with student panels, on-line chats, receptions for admitted students in Vermont and in Boston, NY, Washington DC, Chicago and Philadelphia (generally the home area of the AdvoCat), guidance counselor breakfasts in Vermont, and `special tours’ for specially-arranged groups.

“I decided to become an AdvoCat because I know how influential the college visit experience was for me. I want to make other students have the best possible visit and experience when they visit UVM. It’s fun to see prospective students and the potential possibilities in store for them at UVM,” says sophomore tour guide Colin Robinson.

Thinking of becoming an AdvoCat? There are three phases to the AdvoCat selection process: 1) a written application (usually due in February), 2) a group interview (February), and 3) an individual interview (February/March) – and every applicant does all 3 phases. “However, this past year there were so many applications that it wasn’t possible to individually interview everyone so we had to make a cut after the written application and group interviews were evaluated. That was a really hard decision for us, but we simply didn’t have the staff to interview 111 people,” explained Howard.

Here’s what AdvoCat leaders look for in future tour guides: punctuality, maturity, effective verbal communication skills like voice projection, comfort in front of a group, poise, clarity, the ability to think on one’s feet and the ability to balance personal and general UVM experiences – for example, knowing that your experience isn’t the only experience on campus. It’s also required that student tour guides have knowledge of UVM facts, figures and resources or a demonstrated ability to learn them quickly, as well as the ability to work well with others and solid academic and disciplinary standings.

Students are most frequently not chosen for two reasons. Some students do not appear ready for the position – either they don’t understand what the position actually requires/entails, they lack maturity, they lack confidence, they have too much confidence. All of those kinds of things aren’t attractive in candidates. Students are also not selected because, as Kwon explained, “there are students who we would love to hire, but we simply don’t have the space – and there are a lot of those students. The strongest of these students we place on an alternate list, and we have to send apology letters to the rest.”

“What makes us hire one qualified student over another? Sometimes it is simply because we need more representation from a specific academic unit on campus, or more seniors who have had more experience at UVM. Sometimes someone brings an experience that no one else in the group has that we think might be a useful resource – like having been in IHP or on a competitive club sport team. Sometimes candidates are from geographic areas that we need better representation from – it’s an entire mix of things,” said Kwon.

“We strive for diversity in all of its facets – racial-ethnic background, gender, home state, academic area of study, transfer vs. came to UVM straight from high school, involvement areas on campus, year in school, experiences had at UVM, personality, etc. It is all an important part of our recruitment and selection for the AdvoCat program,” said Howard.

“But the AdvoCats go beyond just trying to be diverse,” said Robinson. “When selecting future tour guides, they really look at the whole person and how well that person will represent the school. They want AdvoCats who will represent the student body, every single person on campus.”