A-list students get home visits from York

In a bid to gain an edge in attracting top students, York University is making house calls to hand-deliver offers to 25 applicants with marks in the 90s, reported the Toronto Star March 12. Believed to be the first such pilot project at a Canadian university, five York recruiters are visiting students’ homes to discuss offers of admission and cash scholarships, and to give them the phone numbers of professors in the fields to which they have applied. And they’re making these personal pitches weeks before most universities put offers in the mail. “Recruitment is a competitive business, so we decided to show the very top students that we really want them by going the extra mile in personal attention,” said David Huckvale, York’s associate director of recruitment. He spent an hour this week at the home of Toronto student Jay Spiegel and his parents to make the plug for the university. “These students are all leaders in their schools,” Huckvale said, “so let’s face it, attracting them is a coup and could even have a cascading effect among their classmates.”

With applications to Ontario universities down about 30 per cent from last year’s record double cohort, the race for top students is heating up. Most hold their annual open houses next week, during March break. At its open house tomorrow, York will have senior students posted at nearby subway stations for the first time to welcome high-school visitors before they even get on campus.

“The fact that someone came out to meet us and explain everything obviously made my son feel wanted,” said Eric Spiegel, whose son attends Darchei Torah, a private school in Toronto. “You can’t help but compare it to the way some American universities court football stars.” In fact, York recruiter Angie Saweczko admits she borrowed the approach from Ivy League schools in the United States that woo top athletes with home visits – as they did with her when she was a high-school swimmer and volleyball star.

“Suddenly I thought, ‘Let’s go to their homes and give it the personal touch,’ especially since some students worry [that] big Toronto universities can be impersonal,” Saweczko said.

Brampton student Lovey Dhillon, 17, has a 95 per cent average but such a busy schedule that she asked Saweczko to come to her high school during a spare period instead of going to her home.

“I was very excited about the visit,” said the Grade 12 student, who has applied to York’s bilingual Glendon College. “It was definitely more welcoming for me to meet her in person and have her reassure me that class size is just 20 to 1,” Dhillon said. Miriam Meier, Dhillon’s guidance counsellor at Chinguacousy Secondary School in Brampton, said she was impressed York is trying to restore a personal touch to a system groaning under its own size – with about 71,000 high-school students applying this year to the province’s 19 universities. “They end up feeling like a number these days, applying to a central application place by computer, and few guidance counsellors have time to sit one-on-one to talk about their choices,” she said. “So to have a human being come to them and say, ‘I’m from York, you’re not just a number to us, here’s my card, I’m here if you need me,’ can’t help but make them feel special.”