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College Green shone in the crisp September sunlight as the clump of prospective students trailed a tourguide down Locust Walk Friday. The scene around them mirrored the ones in the glossy brochures they carried, with students bustling by on their way to class or studying on the grass. Every year, over 15,000 potential applicants visit the University campus, and in only two or three hours they form an impression of the University that may determine whether they apply. The admissions office tries to make the most of prospectives' short visit, providing information and making sure the campus visit -- like any other contact prospectives have with the University -- is a positive experience. The admissions office has a staff of more than 20 people devoted to handling the concerns of prospective students. Through the fall, they present the University to high school students all over the country in well-planned information sessions at high schools and evening receptions, as well as on campus. As the primary points of contact prospective students have with the University, both admissions officers and Kite and Key volunteers who give tours have workshops that guide their presentations by bolstering their supply of facts about the University and teaching them how to field common questions. In an information session in College Hall 200 Friday, about 30 prospective students and parents listened to admissions officer Randi Voluck summarize the University's history and academic strengths, with an emphasis on Benjamin Franklin's involvement and "practical" legacy. The audience laughed as Voluck described engineering students who built a cement canoe for their senior design projects, but their questions did not begin to flow until she talked about the University admissions process. Voluck, who is regional director for Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the Carolinas, said prospective students seem most interested in knowing exactly what they have to do to get into the University. While she cannot give them a formula for success, Voluck said she tries to put students at ease by giving them practical information about filling out their applications. She also shares her point of view as someone who reads applications, demystifying the process for students who fear that their laboriously completed applications will not be given enough personal attention. The underlying purpose of that sharing, according to Voluck, is to transmit a feeling that admissions officers, like others at the University, are down-to-earth enough to speak to students personally. "We're low enough key to be approachable," she said. "Nobody can afford to be on a high horse. Why would you want to?" After the hour-long session was finished, the group was split into thirds and left to the care of tourguides. Eric Werwa, an Engineering senior, led his group past Houston Hall, Irvine Auditorium and the Furness Building, chatting about their ages and the reputations of their architects. While most of the guide's speech concentrated on age and size records set by different University facilities like, "Franklin Field is the oldest two-tiered stadium in the country," Werwa did mention some more serious issues. When he brought the tour to Locust Walk, Werwa alluded to the University's internal dispute about the center of campus. He said some people felt it was unfair that very few women and minorities live on the Walk, and he described the new community service program housed in the Castle. Guides like Werwa are selected by Kite and Key board members and by representatives from the admissions office, and the content and structure of tours is overseen by liaisons from the admissions office. According to tourguide coordinator Stephanie Newman, the most important thing volunteers can offer is a truthful student perspective on campus life. "We try to tell how things relate to us," the College and Wharton junior said. "The whole point of it is we're telling the truth. The admissions office doesn't want to dictate what we say. They're not going to dictate the student perspective." While nobody on Werwa's tour asked about security, both Voluck and Newman said they usually have to field questions about that and other issues facing the University community. One parent on a tour Newman was leading even asked the point-blank question, "Is gang rape a big part of the social life here?" Newman said she handled the question as she does all security concerns, with a discussion of the University's resources and support services for victims of rape and other crimes. Janet Kobosky, regional director for admissions in the Philadelphia area, said people in her district are particularly worried about security because of the attention the problem receives in the local media. She said although she would like to reassure prospective students about their safety on campus, the best thing she can recommend is that they visit the University and see the security measures that exist. "I wish we could give them a safe place to do all of that growing and changing and meet all of those challenges, but unfortunately we can't," she said. "All we can do, quite honestly, is to provide them with the most accurate information we have and to assure them that the University is doing all it can to make the environment safe." Kobosky stressed that her job's main purpose is to provide accurate information, not necessarily to try to persuade students to apply to the University. "We're not just trying to give a happy-face experience of Penn," she said. "We don't try to gloss things over. People might think we are giving them a snow job, but we're not." Campus visits produce the best yield of applicants out of any of the formats used for reaching prospectives, but admissions officers also perform intensive leg-work to publicize the University around the country. From mid-September to mid-November, they travel for up to two weeks at a time, filling a rigorous schedule of 20 high-school visits a week in addition to evening "Introduction to Pennsylvania" information sessions. Last week Kobosky visited four schools a day and attended three evening sessions -- a regional college fair, a high school college night, and a panel discussion about the selective college admission process. Wednesday night, she went to a college fair at Cardinal Newman College, where students at Delaware County high schools came to meet representatives of 100 colleges and universities. Admissions officers said college fairs are among the least successful ways of contacting students. Prospective applicants can pick up written information and ask questions, but the setting is not conducive to longer conversations. At her assigned place at a long table between the University of Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh in the Newman College gymnasium, Kobosky hung a red and blue banner and unpacked her case of brochures detailing different aspects of University life and financial services. For the next two and a half hours, she answered a steady stream of questions, ranging from the popular "What SAT scores do I need to get in?" to the more obscure, "How long does it take to complete a pre-medical program?" "At least nobody asked me if we have cosmetology," said Kobosky. "Someone usually asks that." The University was the only Ivy League school represented at the fair, and while there were several other highly selective institutions there, Kobosky said the University usually shuns these affairs in favor of more intimate meetings with students. She added that because the fair was in the Philadelphia area, she went as a statement of community support. Haverford College representative J.D. Bowers said he had come for a similar reason. "We have a geographical obligation to this place," he said. "If we attract one student, it's worth it."

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