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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Someone to Show You Around

One writer interviews student tour guides to discover how they introduce Dartmouth to prospective students.

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This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue.

Take a walk past McNutt Hall, and you’ll see that students often share campus with tour groups. Many Dartmouth students may remember participating in such a tour themselves, shuffling their feet behind a college student to ask yet another question about the dining halls. With the application process far behind us, most of us have likely taken our last college tour. A select few students, however, have signed up for more, and have taken on the responsibility of making these hour-and-a-half walks through campus a memorable experience for prospective Dartmouth students. 

“I see it as a big part of the pay-it-forward culture at Dartmouth,” tour guide Prescott Herzog ’25 said. 

Herzog explained that at the start of every tour session, a group of tour guides who represent all corners of campus give a spiel introducing themselves to the audience, so prospective students can choose to walk with a guide who shares similar interests. 

To his tour groups, Herzog is “from Claremont, New Hampshire, which is about 30 minutes away from campus, and [is] a government and history major. When [he’s] not giving tours, [he is] involved with the Dickey Center for International Understanding, volunteering with the Dartmouth Center for Social Impact [and] doing political science research.”  

Because each tour guide is involved with different corners of campus, Dartmouth tours reflect personality and individuality in a way that makes visiting campus special for prospective students coming from any place and with any interests, according to Herzog. He added that this customization reflects the multitude of experiences prospective students may have at Dartmouth once they are admitted.

“You have so much discretion within your Dartmouth experience to do whatever you want to do,” Herzog said. 

Catherine O’Halloran ’25 agreed, saying that the tour guides are encouraged to talk about themselves and their interests.

“I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have to memorize tons and tons of statistics to be a tour guide,” O’Halloran said. “What was emphasized during tour guide training is that the trainers want us to share our Dartmouth experiences.” 

While the guides are an integral part of the tour, aspects of the experience are influenced by the Admissions Office. Herzog explains that admissions is involved in the formation of the tour route and provides guides with suggested items to discuss at each stop.

“It’s interesting to see what Dartmouth wants the world to know about them,” he said.

Simon Lamontagne ’24 is a senior admissions fellow who worked full time with the admissions Office this summer. One of his roles is to give information sessions that go along with each tour. He said that the message Dartmouth wants to convey during their tours can be summed up with “the four P’s of Dartmouth — place, program, people and process.” 

Lamontagne described “place” by saying, “we’re talking about the sense of place that we have here at Dartmouth. We do hit on the fact that we are on a small campus in a small town, and it does get cold in the winter.” The longest section of the session is “program,” which includes discussions about different departments, study abroad programs, the housing system and research opportunities, he added. 

The “people” section begins with an explanation of First-Year Trips. “It’s not for making people outdoorsy — it’s getting people to bond with each other before you matriculate,” Lamontagne said. The main idea of this section is that there is no one type of Dartmouth student. 

For this reason, there is no one type of Dartmouth tour, and yet there are some specifics that the Admissions Office asks guides to talk about on each stop of the tour route.

“We go to [the Irving Institute for Energy and Society], and we all talk about the sustainable energy programs happening there,” Lamontagne said. 

The Irving Institute isn’t the only place where tour guides are required to share specific information with the tour attendees.

“We will stand outside the entrance to Common Ground, typically to talk about both student activities and dining,” Lamontagne added. He noted that these conversations range from his favorite things to put in his Collis smoothies to logistical pieces about getting funding from the Council on Student Organizations to choosing a meal plan. At each stop, guides blend their subjective experiences with the information that all perspectives students need to know in order to make an informed decision about college. 

Although giving a tour may seem like fun, the process of becoming a tour guide is not easy. According to Mariya Vahanvaty ’25, the new guides had to complete “a couple months of training” after their initial acceptance. She said that they attended classes on etiquette and seminars on different departments, shadowed real tours, gave mock tours and eventually were tested.

“Someone would pop on our tour with a clipboard, checking things off at each stop. It was very rigorous,” Vahanvaty said. 

Dartmouth tour guides learn to craft a narrative that integrates the universal truths of campus with their own experiences here. Conversation topics on tours range to include difficult nuances about campus life, and guides are not expected to make excuses for Dartmouth. Herzog noted discussions about the culture of Greek Life, while Vahanvaty recalled questions concerning the experience of being a person of color at a primarily-white-institution. Chloe Terestchenko ’25 mentioned talking about her experience transitioning from urban to small town living. Faced with tough questions, the guides know how to be honest and critical about life at Dartmouth, so the students that do come to Dartmouth arrive prepared to navigate its challenges.

“I answer questions like I would with my friend or a professor,” Vahanvaty said. “When someone asks about something I don’t like, I could say, ‘That’s not my favorite aspect of campus. But here’s some ways that I work around that, or ways that I helped myself to enjoy my time here despite that.’”

As with any school, Dartmouth has its strengths and its flaws. Vahanvaty reminds prospective students that Dartmouth is a work in progress that every student can be a part of. 

That being said, Vahanvaty also noted that Dartmouth tours are a way to ensure that students choose Dartmouth intentionally, as it is a “niche place” that is “not for everyone.” The Northeastern weather and the quarter system are just a few Dartmouth features that tour guides stress to prospective students. “The purpose of a Dartmouth tour is to actually see things in action, so students can know if they vibe with it,” Lamontagne described. 

Terestchenko said that tour guides are able to communicate the unique experiences of being a Dartmouth student that are not easily accessible online — such as the daily dip and the Lou’s Challenge.

“I always talk about the snowball fight, since it’s a tradition that people really like,” Terestchenko said. “I do it at the end of my tour, on the Green, which is also where we talk about the Homecoming bonfire.”

After trekking across campus, tour groups gather on the Green — the social and cultural center of campus — to talk about what makes up Dartmouth. 

“Maybe before you come to Dartmouth, you’re like, ‘Oh, what is this [part of campus]?’” Terestchenko said. “But I’ve gotten a lot of alums on my tours, and we have talked about how Dartmouth has changed a lot, but also how our traditions have been so long lasting.” 

Dartmouth is always changing, and its tours have changed alongside it. Herzog shared that the tour route was recently modified to center around the West End buildings, in order to emphasize the newly constructed Engineering and Computer Science Center and the Irving Institute.

“I think the change reflects Dartmouth’s attempts to modernize liberal arts education,” Herzog said.

For example, Lamontagne said that he makes sure to convey to prospective students how Dartmouth is integrating science and technology into its liberal arts curriculum.

“I think people hear liberal arts college and think ‘I can't do STEM here’, but that's really not the case,” he said. “At Irving, I can say that I'm not involved in sustainability, but here's some examples of research that I've done that incorporate both humanities and STEM aspects.”

In addition to that, however, the new change adds length and distance to the route. Tour groups have begun asking more questions about bus routes, likely because of the increased walking distance, Terestchenko noticed — especially on hot summer days.

“It’s a lot of walking, and people get tired,” Terestchenko admitted. “[The updated route] provides a cohesive tour now, and it’s efficient, but making it more accessible is important.” 

The Dartmouth tour will surely look different in the years to come, but it will likely still remain an important part of applying to Dartmouth. Vahanvaty reflected on her first Dartmouth tour eight years ago with her older sibling. 

“It was during sophomore summer, obviously. And my tour guide did a capella. I can’t remember which group, but that was really cool,” she said. “I just remember thinking she was like the coolest person ever. I could really envision myself in her shoes.”

Since then, Vahanvaty’s shoes have taken her — and hundreds of prospective students — for hundreds of miles around Dartmouth’s campus.