Letters to Editor, Opinion

Letter to the Editor: Our tour guides deserve to be paid

Letters to the Editor do not reflect the editorial opinion of The Daily Free Press. They are solely the opinion of the author.

I quit being an admission ambassador because I couldn’t afford to keep being one. My job was to take prospective students and their parents on tours in order to convince them that Boston University is the missing piece to their student’s success. I became an admissions ambassador because like many I thought: “I love BU, and the tour I took made me want to come here. I should give back.” And like most BU students, I have a full schedule. On top of being an admissions ambassador sophomore year, I was working 10 to 12 hours a week, as well as serving as a peer mentor, doing research in a lab and being enrolled in 18 credits. As a student who is paying for their own tuition and personal expenses while at college, I need a paid job to simply survive. Although I enjoyed meeting prospective students, I loved my other commitments and they all either gave credit or paid me. If one thing had to go, it was clear what it was. I came to BU to grow as an individual and an intellectual — not be burnt out by commitments that were unsustainable.

According to the admissions website, “Ambassadors are expected to help recruit diverse classes of future BU students which represent all academic, socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds.” But how can this be true when those expected to represent Boston University are students who can afford to work for free? While I’m not claiming only high-income students can have this position, the fact is that this job puts more stress on low income students. And admissions understands the tangible effect money has on people’s lives. I was asked in my interview how I would respond to parents when they asked me how I justify the extraordinary cost of attendance here, which is around $70,000 a year. I replied with something I knew would secure me the position: The cost of attendance reflects the quality of resources and level of education we are able to provide students. I wholeheartedly believed this and was accepted as an ambassador.

The heartfelt “thank yous” from shy students made me feel like I made a real impact — I imagined maybe they would come here and have the great experiences I have had as a result of my tour. But despite these moments, the work wasn’t as satisifying as I had hoped. I spent eight hours in training, only compensated by pizza and my newfound knowledge of the various types of engineering offered at BU. I also frequently had tours where parents berated me for the (admittedly small) size of the sample Towers dorm room. Anyone who has had a service job knows that customer service is an especially draining job.

I know that I got at least one student to come to BU because she found me when I was an orientation leader the following summer. And even assuming a tour guide only got that one student to come here, they could potentially be bringing in the university nearly a quarter of a million dollars. Meanwhile, I did not get paid.

I tried to make sense of the situation. There were many tour guides; BU couldn’t afford to pay them all. Or could they? BU isn’t the mythic, small business owner of the Republican fantasy. BU is a wealthy school, with an endowment totalling nearly $1.96 billion. According to BU’s 2017 annual report, students brought in $1.3 billion in tuition and fees. Tour guides are essential in securing this source of revenue. BU can afford to pay each and every person who even works a single hour, especially those whose work is as essential as tour guides. When I applied to go here, I wrote about my tour experience for the “Why BU?” essay. Admissions ambassadors ensure a mutual fit for students and the school. We gain inspiring classmates, and new students gain access to BU’s resources.

Looking at 28 of our peer institutions (including our New York twin, NYU), over half pay their tour guides. We give ours a hoodie. BU can do better, and it should do better. And if you think they should too, join us by signing in support this list of demands for better working conditions for BU admissions ambassadors.

Claudia Benincasa


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  1. Great op-ed! I agree with Claudia–tour guides should be paid, and everyone should sign this petition!

  2. Tour guides absolutely should be paid. I heard that tour guides over the summer were compensated with free housing – is this correct, or am I misinformed?

    • This is true! Only over the summer are those who give tours paid. During the school year, there ARE paid positions, tour captains, SAR, and coordinators. Yet there are few fewer of these positions. Those who give tours, the admissions ambassadors, aren’t paid during the year.

      • To add, summer tour guides are paid AND receive housing. Of those academic year paid employees, there are around 7-8 tour captains and coordinators. I’m unsure about the number of paid SARs. But during the school year there are around 200ish? unpaid admissions ambassadors.

        • It’s good to hear that summer tour guides are paid! I had no idea that academic year ambassadors weren’t…some serious mental gymnastics on BU’s part to justify that..

    • Those who work in admissions over the summer are paid and have free housing, like most student employees during the summer. However, students in admissions over the summer are not only giving 2-3 tours a day, they are basically running the admissions office from 8:30-5 Monday through Friday. So really, they aren’t just summer tour guides.