Ten questions you’ve always wanted to ask a Stanford tour guide

Nov. 29, 2022, 9:12 p.m.

Walking backwards, remembering fun facts about Stanford, and watching out for reckless bikers — these are just some of the many things that Stanford tour guides have to keep in mind when giving tours. As a guide myself, I have learned that the tour guide community at Stanford is tight-knit and represents all aspects of the student body — there is a balance of STEM and humanities majors, underclassmen and upperclassmen and students involved with some of the 650+ student organizations on campus.

Students who are hired as tour guides fulfill a variety of responsibilities, whether it be giving the traditional 90-minute tours to prospective undergraduates, presenting the 45-minute tours to high school groups, interacting with visitors at the visitor center and participating in student forums.

This week, I interviewed three of my fellow tour guides over email to ask them about their experiences and favorite parts of this job — Anna Quinlan ’23 is a computer science major and senior from Menlo Park, California; she is involved with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, conducted research at the Stanford School of Medicine and studied abroad in Madrid.

Pablo Ramirez ’25 is a human biology major from McAllen, Texas who is involved with the ski team, Kids with Dreams and Cardinal Free Clinics

Caitlin Casey ’23 is a public policy major and management science and engineering co-term from Granger, Indiana. She spends her free time with club soccer, greek life and StanfordVotes

The Stanford Daily (TSD): To become a tour guide at Stanford, what was the application process like? When did you become a tour guide?

AQ: I applied and was hired pre-COVID in 2020. We literally got rolled out and then sent home a week later. The app process consisted of a few short essays, a group interview and then a personal interview. Everyone was nice and mostly focused on getting to know me. Honestly, I went through the process not expecting to get the job, which made it a lot less stressful! My advice would be to give it a shot if you’re interested. We’re hiring this winter!

PR: I started the application process during the winter quarter of my freshman year. It was definitely challenging, but I think it really prepared me for what the tour guide job would entail. 

CC: I became a tour guide spring of my freshman year, so in 2019. The application process was fun but challenging. The group interview and then the personal interview were nerve-wracking at the time but it all turned out fine. I’ve been doing it for four years now.

TSD: What’s the most random question a visitor has ever asked you?

AQ: I’ve gotten asked what size the beds were on campus.

PR: I get asked a lot of really weirdly specific questions about the farm

CC: One visitor couldn’t figure out how to Google things so I had to walk them through it. It’s surprisingly difficult. A lot of them ask if I am related to different people they know. I have a pretty common last name.

TSD: How hard is it to walk backwards? Can you see where you’re going?

AQ: I don’t think it’s that hard to learn. I never explicitly practiced walking backwards, but I got the hang of it when I was going through the tour certification process, which is where your tour gets signed off before you start giving it to the public. We have a fixed tour route so it’s generally not too bad to avoid obstacles because we know where they are.

PR: I just got certified and started giving tours, so I’m a bit rusty at walking backwards. After a while you have to trust the route and ask people to let you know if you’re about to hit something!

CC: It’s not that hard. It can get tiring at the very end of an hour and a half tour, but in general the group warns you and you also have peripheral vision to help out. 

TSD: Around how many steps would you say you take when you’re giving a tour?

AQ: According to my watch, my last tour was around 5,600 steps!

PR: The tour is an hour and a half and walks all over campus, so I wouldn’t be surprised if I got more than 5,000 steps on a tour!

CC: I have no idea. Whatever amount you would get from walking around for an hour and a half!

TSD: How do you remember so many facts about Stanford?

AQ: I’m not great at memorizing things, so I was worried about this aspect of guiding. We mostly talk about the student experience, where the ‘facts’ are things you know from your day to day life (like how the meal plan works), and you repeat certain other key facts so often that you learn them eventually (like the founding date of Stanford).

PR: A lot of Quizlet and tour shadowing!

CC: Hearing them over and over helps. The tour is mostly just about student-lived experiences though, so facts about me are easy. You also get quizzed.

TSD: Why did you choose to become a tour guide? What has been the best part about being a tour guide?

AQ: I became a guide because I had heard great things about the community, and I thought it would be really fun to get paid to learn random things about Stanford and give tours. I really like being able to introduce folks to aspects of Stanford that they might not know about, like the Indigenous community on campus, as well as ‘humanize’ Stanford in a sense for visitors.

PR: I was really looking for a tight knit group of people with diverse interests, and I’m so glad the tour guiding has become that for me. The people are so interesting and unique, so I’ve loved meeting different people. 

CC: The community was great and my freshman Residential Assistants were tour guides. I really looked up to them so I wanted to do it. It’s a nice job and community to have on campus, plus I really loved my tour guide when I visited and it’s great to pay it forward. The best part is meeting the prospective students. They really look up to you and it reminds us to be grateful for what we have here. Also: free food. 

TSD: How would you describe the tour guide community at Stanford?

AQ: The guide community is really diverse. It has to be; there are so many different things you can do at Stanford! People are really nice and welcoming. I’ve met people through guiding that I never would have otherwise.

PR: Extremely supportive and energetic.

CC: It’s changed obviously since being a freshman to being one of the older guides. It’s always very supportive though. You get to meet people you wouldn’t have met otherwise and get to grow up with people. 

TSD: What is your favorite segment of the tour and why?

AQ: I like the part by the language corner and Green Library because I get to talk about study abroad! I had a fantastic time in Madrid and love sharing all the cool things you can do while abroad through Stanford.

PR: I love walking through Main Quad and talking about the time capsules! There’s a lot of fun history to the time capsules that I learned from other guides. 

CC: Favorite segment is the part by the athletics booth because it means I get to rest my voice soon, and I also love telling people that we are the best athletics school in the country (because it’s true).

TSD: If you could change one thing about the tour route, what would it be and why?

AQ: The route is understandably pretty long because campus is large, but I wish it were a little shorter since it can be tiring.

PR: I’d love to walk through Meyer Green and more of East Campus. It’s my favorite study spot on campus, and I think it would be a great place to show. 

CC: It’s not the route’s fault but campus is just huge. Maybe put the Visitor Center in the middle of campus so we start and end more centrally. 

TSD: What’s one word or phrase you would use to describe your experience being a tour guide?

AQ: Energizing!

PR: “How do we park?” 

CC: “Is that a map?” 

These interviews have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Vivian Wang ’25 is a staff writer at The Daily. She is from Orange County, California and is currently studying Symbolic Systems. Contact her at imvivian ‘at’ stanford.edu to talk about tech, journalism, Disneyland or anything else.

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