Three Questions to Answer Before Starting a Student Ambassador Program

Later this month, nearly 4 million students will start a new round of college classes.  With this new group of students arriving on campuses all across the nation, the admissions office will turn its attention to recruiting next years class.

So, how can colleges relay the best information to prospective students? Well, connect them with current students of course. This is one of the key takeaways from our 2012/13 Social Admissions Report, which shows that current students are the top resource that high school seniors want to connect with during their college decision process.

While this may sound great in theory, how does it work in practice? This is the question we’ve heard from many institutions during our webinars, so we decided to ask two thought-leaders from the admissions community to share their experience working with student ambassador teams.  Ashley Hennigan from Cornell University and Brian Apfel from Marist University outline three key questions to answer before starting a student ambassador program.

1. Where Do You Find These Student Ambassadors?

If you take a look around campus, you are sure to find passionate students who have deep ties to your university community.  These are your champions, and you should empower them to tell your campus story.

You already have campus representatives who lead orientation or facilitate campus tours, and this a great place to start!  Also, look to your current social media efforts and identify the power users.  Are there current students naturally answering prospective student questions in your incoming class Facebook community?  Are there students active on social media who frequently mention your university?  These are the students who are naturally tech-savvy, so get them on your team and use them as an asset.

2. How Do You Motivate and Incentivize Them?

Its important to remember that your students are your rockstars, not your volunteers!  Now that you have your student ambassadors, how do you motivate them?

It would be great to pay every student ambassador, but most institutions operate on a shoestring budget.  Additionally, students participate in ambassador programs for many reasons other than a paycheck.  For instance, Marist students cited their professional development goals and interest in building connections on campus when asked what motivated them to participate.

Be creative and diverse when you incentivize student ambassadors.  Ashley and Brian will buy tickets for events on campus, for example, and send student ambassadors to document their experience.  This is a win-win; the students get to attend an event for free, and they have a great campus life story for the blog/ social channels.

3. How Do You Manage Them?

A shortage of resources is a huge issue for most admissions offices, and managing a handful of student ambassadors can take away valuable time.  So how does Brian bring in 75 new ambassadors each year?

The first step is setting clear goals early on.  If the students know what is expected of them and which institutional/personal goals they are working towards, you’re setting them up for success.  At Marist, student ambassadors understand that they start out unpaid and must be high performers in order to move up to paid positions, such as a tour guide or orientation leader.

Secondly, get out of their way.  This sounds harsh, but giving students the leeway to be creative and use their natural abilities as digital natives will make your job easier.

You can find Ashley and Brian’s full presentation here, complete with examples of schools fully empowering their student ambassadors.  Feel free to tweet @AshleyHenn or @BrianApfel with any questions!