Counterpoint: Admissions volunteers cannot be paid
I have been working for the admissions office since my freshman year, starting as a prospective student host and a Bear Lunch Bunch guide, now a regular student presentation partner. I am not paid (or rewarded) for my work in presentations and in my freshman year, I got a T-shirt and a $10 Starbucks gift card for hosting two students and leading 10+ lunches. If anyone has questioned this bizarre system of payment before, it’s definitely me.
Admissions volunteers, from presentation partners and student interviewers to tour guides, are essential to recruiting our future freshman classes—they are the face of Washington University and are representatives of the values that our University promotes to all prospective applicants. As a presentation partner myself, I am fully aware of how important these students are, and I understand why you might expect us to be paid for our efforts. Economically, we probably add more value to this campus than the majority of paid part-time student employees (remember, a single, full paying student is worth over $250,000 to Wash. U. in their four years here). But unfortunately, it just isn’t feasible to expect us to be paid regularly.
The most realistic argument about why volunteers do not need to be paid is a simple review of Economics 101. When freshmen come to campus, hundreds of them want to represent their campus in whatever capacity they can. Even if you’ve never seen the mailing list for the admissions office at the Fall Club Fair, you probably wouldn’t be surprised to know that it reads like a novel. Supply exceeds demand for these positions, and the admissions office can easily get away with paying volunteers nothing because students will still flock to apply every fall. There are 7,000 undergraduates, and you would imagine that the University will never have a problem finding enough fantastic students to work in admissions without needing to pay them.
Among the vast variety of student positions in the admissions office, there is admittedly a fluctuation in interest for roles: every spring, the University struggles to find enough freshmen and sophomores to host prospective students on welcome weekends, and you might be surprised to know that the presentation partner staff is relatively small. But, until Wash. U. actively has a crisis it needs to deal with (say, there is a massive shortfall in the amount of hosts who sign up or the admission office goes two weeks without a student in a presentation), that issue is not going to be enough to drive change for the larger volunteer body.
That analysis gets at a larger reason why admissions volunteers do not need to be paid. Like any executive position in a student group or a role as a counselor for pre-orientation programs, being a tour guide or presentation partner is a coveted position. As a volunteer, you get the opportunity to show pride for your new school and be a public face to hundreds of visitors (and secretly, get a lot of attention all to yourself). It is as much doing a duty for your new home as it is stroking your own ego. We do what we do because we love the role, and we want other people to love Wash. U. as much as us.
In an ideal world, any Wash. U. student would be able to work in admissions, especially financially burdened students who may be able to converse especially well with families who are concerned about the financial feasibility of coming to our University. But realistically, with the amount of paid jobs that exist on campus, it is a lot to expect the admissions office to do the same. In addition, it wouldn’t be all that lucrative to be a tour guide. If you averaged two tours a week at minimum wage (which is a good amount, considering how many tour guides there are), you would only make about $200 a semester before taxes. That isn’t a major economic incentive for students, and doesn’t represent a convincing change from the current situation.
At the moment, from an admissions perspective, Wash. U. is in a relatively peaceful equilibrium—from start to finish, we are able to present ourselves as a great place for students to come to college.Currently, we have the volunteer body necessary to accomplish these objectives and there is no reason to believe that we are having issues in admissions because students aren’t being paid for their work. In reality, the position is so prestigious that at an engaged and excited school like Wash. U., we will probably never need an economic incentive to find fantastic volunteers to recruit the next generation of students.