Is a free jacket, a discount at the school store and an opportunity to show off your love for Duke enough incentive to become a tour guide?

The Blue Devil Tour Guides program runs year-round to welcome prospective students to campus as part of the Admission Ambassadors program run by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Tour guides for the Pratt Schools of Engineering are paid year-round, but general admissions tour guides are only paid during the summer—serving as volunteers during the school year.

“We currently don’t pay tour guides during the year in part because of the particular credibility volunteer guides have, and in part because, like all university offices, we’re working within the constraints of our budget,” wrote Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Christoph Guttentag.

He explained that paying summer tour guides allows the admissions office to have enough guides to run reasonably sized tour groups.

Sophomore Rose Graves said that she applied to be a tour guide because of her own bad experiences with college tours, noting that she wanted to help Duke project a better image to prospective students.

“The lack of pay never wavered my decision to apply,” Graves said. “However, it has made me question at points what my motivation is to continue.”

Although general admissions tour guides are not paid, Graves added that they receive some tangible perks, including tour guide jackets and a discount at Duke University Stores.

The Pratt School of Engineering runs a separate tour program, which serves as a complement to the general admissions tours and highlights opportunities specific to engineers, according to Lauren Stulgis, director of undergraduate student affairs for Pratt. Unlike tour guides at the admissions office, Pratt tour guides are paid hourly from the Pratt undergraduate operating budget, she said.

Stulgis explained that the smaller size of the Pratt tour guide staff—which only consists of nine to 10 students at a time—contributes to their ability to pay the guides.

“We’re talking about a much smaller budgetary impact,” Stulgis said. “It’s not significant paychecks. They’re maybe getting paid for an hour to an hour and half per week.” 

Tour guide compensation at peer institutions varies on a school-by-school basis.

Similar to the Pratt guides, all tour guides at the University of Michigan are paid at an hourly rate through the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Katie Brumfield—tour guide student staff coordinator at Michigan—wrote in an email that an effect of compensating tour guides is the risk of receiving applicants who want an easy job. 

“I have had other schools that don’t pay their tour guides reach out to me about getting guides to show up for tours and any sort of incentives we may give, however we don’t have an accountability issue due to our guides being paid and the program operating like any other job would,” she wrote.

Contrary to tour guides in Pratt and at Michigan, University of Pennsylvania tour guides serve on a volunteer basis, similar to tour guides at Duke during the academic year. Talya Kramer, tour guide coordinator at Penn, wrote in an email that Penn tour guides, like general admissions tour guides at Duke, receive small gifts like water bottles, notebooks or sweatshirts. Despite the lack of pay, Penn students are eager to be tour guides, she added. 

“For an hour and a half a week, I get to talk about how much I truly enjoy being at Penn,” Kramer wrote. “Most guides would agree that they enjoy giving back to Penn, meeting prospective students and sharing their passion for the University.” 

Guttentag wrote that, in his experience, Duke tour guides share similar sentiments. 

“I’ve found that the overwhelming majority of Duke students are deeply appreciative of the opportunities that they have here,” he wrote. “For some students, [being a tour guide] is a way of showing their enthusiasm for Duke and encouraging the next generation of talented students to consider Duke.”