You hear the crunch of snow beneath your boots, and you zip up your jacket to shield yourself from the brutally cold winter morning. Stepping onto the nearest elevated surface, you turn on your heel and face your steadfast followers, gazing up at you with expectant and admiring glows plastered on their faces, eager to hear you speak. You scan the sea of loyal devotees that stand before you and see a dynamic composition of faces — an older Indian couple, a high school math class from China, a shivering six-year-old clutching his mother’s hand. As you continue walking, people ambush you from all angles asking you for your name, your age and, if you’re lucky, your email address, elevating you to celebrity status. You lead your fearless brigade through the stone arches in slow motion, like a valiant hero emerging from battle to the sound of ubiquitous, triumphant bells.
You turn and say, “Here we have Branford College, one of Yale’s fourteen residential colleges.”
The annual period of friendly tour guide competition has finally descended upon on us, and since college application season — or reaching for the last piece of bacon pizza in Morse dining hall — the feeling of competition among first years has never been stronger.
The position of official campus tour guide garners immense student interest when it comes to on-campus employment. Thus, the application process for the tour guide position is almost absurdly arduous — a series of written applications and in-person interview rounds take place before culminating in a final audition.
But there’s a reason why most students would rather describe the function of the Woodbury Vermont granite of Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library to a band of inquisitive Chinese tourists than restack books in Bass Library.
It’s certainly not because of the $13 hourly pay — a job as a dining student associate pays $16.85. In fact, I’m sure most of the people applying would still do the job regardless of salary. It’s true — seeded right after your meme making it into Laurie Santos’ lecture, being a tour guide is the epitome of coolness on campus. Your identity as a Yalie becomes a part of your job title, and your affiliation with the elite institution becomes even stronger. Plus, you get to sport your tour guide swag as proudly as a varsity athlete.
Many of us think back to our own days as a high school hopeful taking a tour at Yale for the first time. Campus tour guides are enthusiastic yet poised, personable yet professional, accomplished yet humble. But the biggest allure of being a tour guide can be boiled down to one thing: Yale is a name brand.
If a Yale student were asked to be a tour guide for nearby Quinnipiac University, their reaction would likely be similar to that of someone declining lunch at Saybrook College dining hall. In other words, the appeal of the job isn’t to be a tour guide, it’s to be a tour guide for Yale.
Of course it wouldn’t make much sense for a Yale student to commute to another university to give a tour. That’s just not practical. But for first years, when “Yale” can be plastered onto a resume again, nudged between “Yale University, expected graduation May 2021” and “member of Yale Symphony Orchestra,” a title without the incorporated name seems to pale in comparison.
I don’t mean to make anyone feel self-conscious for wanting to become a Yale tour guide. Some of my closest friends at Yale are applying and several people on campus I look up to are — incidentally — on the team.
My problem with the tour guide application process is its ostensibly meritocratic structure. It’s no surprise — Yalies love good competition. But in a university full of incredibly talented and qualified people, how does the committee make a decision? What does it mean if someone doesn’t pass the first, second or third round?
At a place like Yale, an assemblage of historically successful high school winners, some may take their loss as a personal reflection of their character and abilities. In the face of denial, it’s easy for students to close their rejection email with “I’m not good enough” ringing in their ears. At what point does friendly competition decline into self-disdain?
People want to be a Yale tour guide because they love their school. They want the name “Yale” on their resume because it comes with a sense of pride, authenticity and accomplishment. Yet whether or not someone ends up securing the coveted position as a tour guide, there are so many other ways to express pride in our institution. Whether it’s alternating between the bulldog acceptance T-shirt and quintessential Hillflint sweater every time you’re in public, slipping a casual “Yale ’21” into your Instagram bio or applying to be a tour guide, we are all proud we got into Yale and will do what it takes to help others see it — for better or for worse.
Allison Park is a first year in Branford College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.