It's All in the Visit

Inspiration for optimizing college visits.

5 Tour Guide Skills You Can Take With You After Graduation

Posted by Sarah Rectenwald

Campus tour guides have the opportunity to develop a universal skill set that can help them personally and professionally long after they graduate. Here are 5 skills I gained from my time as a tour guide:

  1. Improvisation (Expecting the unexpected)

From my first tour to my last, I practiced improvising, which is the action of doing something unplanned. When a tour was disrupted, I had two options: let it derail me or go with it.

For example, a stray cat joined our group just as we were starting the tour. Would this interruption prevent us from visiting certain locations and returning to the admissions office on time? Rather than jumping to conclusions, I paused and let the prospective family react: They loved cats and proceeded to pet their new feline friend for ten minutes. I didn’t expect the beginning of the tour to involve petting a cat!

Handling unexpected moments with grace and poise is an important lesson I learned during my time as a tour guide. It has made me more resilient to life’s surprises.


  1. Empathy (Connecting with people)

Every prospective student that visited my college had a story to tell. They came to campus with unique talents, interests, and experiences. Most of the time, I could not relate to them on the basis of intended majors, extracurricular activities, or personal passions. Instead, I learned to actively listen when they shared personal information, asked relevant questions, and support them in their journey to find a college home.

Empathy is a skill, and a lifelong practice, that greatly impacts the quality of a campus tour. The ability to step into the shoes of another and share their enthusiasm, or their fears, makes the interaction more meaningful and may result in a deeper connection. Empathy is needed in all relationships, personal or professional.

  1. Confidence (Navigating detours)

Some moments are bound to go wrong as a tour guide. There may be a construction zone blocking your tour route, a temporary eye-sore on campus (like a turned over trashcan), or a sudden rainstorm that hits halfway through your tour, soaking everyone. Leading tours taught me how to face inconveniences and momentary setbacks in a constructive manner. 

Specifically, I gained the confidence needed to:

  • Laugh at hard situations
  • Be honest about my mistakes 
  • Apologize when it’s necessary
  1. Public speaking (Addressing large groups in loud places)

“Can everyone hear me?” I’d ask the group, circled up in the dining hall during the loudest part of every tour. Oftentimes they couldn’t hear me, so I’d ask again, louder.

Leading a tour in a busy environment required me to use a clear speaking voice with careful diction, annunciation, and expression to gain and retain the group’s attention. Despite the competing noise and activity around us, every tour must go on.

I’m thankful for the ability to address large groups effectively in quiet or chaotic settings. While it took a bit of practice and focus, the dining hall was great training ground for public speaking!

  1. Customer service (Leading with hospitality)

Tour guides have the opportunity to be the first person a prospective student meets on campus. Serving as the face of my school was a responsibility that I took seriously. 

I practiced putting the prospective family first by offering a warm welcome to campus that included discussing the locations of upcoming appointments, inviting them to ask any questions they might have, and finding ways to enhance their visit. For example, if they mentioned they were running late and unable to eat before the tour, I would suggest a restaurant to them that wouldn’t require waiting for a table.

Learning how to make a good impression and address the needs of prospective families is a skill I can take with me into any sector and use to improve the quality of my personal and professional relationships.


Topics: Confidence, Public Speaking, Empathy, Customer Service