Never Let Them See You Sweat

The challenges faced and pressure felt by H-Club members as the student ambassadors of Hockaday

As any private school enrollment office should, Hockaday admissions must use all tools at its disposal in order to attract the top students in the area. The staff employs a range of techniques that market to these potential students and their parents, a strategy that includes the Upper School girls themselves. These students, H-Club members, exist to provide the prime example of a Hockaday girl in each step of the admissions process.

While some girls welcome the responsibility, others worry that they may not fulfill the promise they have given to the club and the school.

“There is a pressure and you can tell when someone is enjoying a tour or not. It’s hard when you don’t have enthusiastic people or you’re afraid you’re not doing your job and they don’t like the school. It can be stressful,” senior and two year H-Club member Tita said.

H-Club girls are taught to conduct these tours through their own personal stories, sharing their personalities, interests and contributions to the school with the prospective parents, a method envisioned 20 years ago by Judy Gass, former director of admissions from 1990 to 1993, when she founded the “Hockaday Club” in 1991.

“I think her thoughts were that the students could best tell the story about the school and that parents and students would probably rather hear from a real student than the admissions staff,” said Jen Liggitt, assistant head for enrollment management and strategic initiatives.

A strategy used by admissions programs in high school and college, the student tour is the only time the prospective parents will visit before deciding whether their child should apply.

“Students understand a school. Obviously they don’t tell you bad things about it, but they will tell you things that the admissions people don’t know about the school, so I think it’s always great to get a student perspective,” Tita said.

This concept puts a face to the school, a responsibility that is daunting to some H-Club members, who often face tough questions during tours but feel obliged to answer with honesty.

“As far as questions go, they’re usually the same. Homework load is sometimes kind of a hard one because you want to make it sound happy when they ask you if the academics are really that intense. You have to be honest about that even if the way they ask the question is intimidating,” freshman H-Club member Avery said.

Students are encouraged to refer difficult questions or inquiries to the admission office if unsure of an answer or response.

“We do ask them to talk positively about Hockaday, but also speak honestly. I think the parents value that opinion that they’re not just trying to sugarcoat it and sell them the school. They are really describing their personal experience,” said assistant admissions director for the Upper School Katie Hollingsworth.

This interaction with the students might be the final deciding factor for the parents and prospective students.

“You want them to like Hockaday. You definitely do not want to be the reason why they didn’t apply or why Hockaday wasn’t their best choice. That’s definitely one of those things where you do feel pressure,” Avery said.

Hockaday hosts various events throughout the year, and H-Club members must make time to be present at most events.

“You actually have to be involved to stay in. It’s a privilege to be in it and you have to work for it,” third year H-Club member and junior Ellen said.

However, while the number of applicants to Hockaday has grown by 3.3 percent in the past seven years, the admissions process at Hockaday develops each year and the scope of H-Club increases, giving additional reasons to recruit more students with a wider range in diversity and interests but with that same sense of passion for the school.

“We have added more orientation as the years have gone by and have had to tweak everything as the school is changing so fast,” Liggitt said, “But consistently, we tell the girls to tell their personal stories when they tour. We could not do half the things we do without H-Club.”

Ursuline Assistant to the Director of Admission, Amanda Trimble, agrees—she knows how large a role the students play in admissions.

“Our admission staff is small, so we honestly couldn’t do all that we do without the help of our students,” Trimble said.

Without the large numbers of H-Club students available for open houses, the tour group sizes would increase and would take away from the personal nature of the student-conducted campus tour. While opportunities may be hard to come by due to the normal tour hours (10 A.M. to 2:30 P.M.) that do not coincide with Upper School scheduling, the greater number of active members serves a purpose.

“We’ve had so many more applicants in the past few years, and honestly at admission previews, it’s almost like we don’t have enough [girls],” Hollingsworth said.

According to Hollingsworth, with over 2,000 visitors to Hockaday each year, tours have tripled in the past three years.

Looking towards the future, Liggitt hopes to see more growth and student leadership in the club, hopefully inspiring a greater presence at the school and added enthusiasm in the work the student ambassadors do.

The Episcopal School of Dallas runs their ambassador club through this type of student leadership according to its admissions office. The club elects its own officers, who choose new student members through an application and interview process.

“I think that having it be student-run would motivate girls to work harder in order to get those leadership positions. It would be a more welcomed kind of responsibility because you work for it,” Ellen said.

Some members argue that additional responsibility would give the position of a school ambassador a more admirable nature and speak more towards the job as being an honor, where students receive an opportunity to give back to their school and set the standard for what to expect of a Hockaday girl.

The H-Club girls readily fill this expectation every year.

“I think a lot of times that the younger families will say I want my daughter to be just like them,” Liggitt said. “It’s just what they see for their daughter.”