A career path that’s completely off the map

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
~ Robert Frost

Sarah Boyle (Geography and International Relations, Hons, 2013), always on the look for “something new and exciting,” lives by this poem.  In 2009, when friends were matriculating to nearby University of Illinois, Northwestern University or Loyola, she followed her less-traveled road from Chicago, Illinois to St Andrews, Scotland.  A year later, despite her lack of fundraising experience, she joined the University of St Andrews Phone Campaign team – one of the first and most successful student fundraising teams in the UK outside of Oxford and Cambridge, and among the even-more-elite few who call alumni around the globe.

“It looked like a good university job with decent hours and pay.  Plus, it seemed simple enough – I love chatting to people, especially about St Andrews!” she reflects.

The phone campaign requires a tough, two-part interview, the first segment on the telephone with a stranger and the second face-to-face with Development staff.  Fewer than 25% of applicants were accepted the year Sarah applied, and even more dropped out during the lengthy two-day training.  Not Sarah.  Despite the long hours and challenging conversations, Sarah quickly mastered the skills required to chat at length with University alumni, parents and friends about everything from archery to zoology while updating contact details and asking for contributions.  Moreover, she thrived.

She enjoyed the job so much, in fact, that three years and seven phone campaigns later, Sarah is among the most senior and most successful St Andrews phone campaign students, having single-handedly raised nearly £35k for the University’s 600th Anniversary campaign.  Her skills have even been highlighted in a series of training videos for new team members.

This year, during the UK phone campaign alone, Sarah raised almost £16,000, speaking to several alumni and parents for more than an hour.  Her efforts contributed to the team total of £263,000 raised — £13,000 more than its campaign goal – for scholarships, academic resources and other campaign projects, including Sarah’s favourite,  the Family Book Fund, which has provided £400,000 in books and electronic resources for the library over the past 19 years.

There have been advantages for Sarah as well.  “I’ve received amazing advice from alumni across the world on what classes to take, what career to choose, how to go about finding my first job,” she said.  “This job has allowed me to speak with people who can show me a plethora of other roads I can take in this life.”  Her favourite memory is of talking to a young alumna about to move to Qatar, where she will map the area’s water system ahead of the FIFA World Cup in 2022.

Although Sarah’s less-traveled road has led to one expected destination – graduation – it has ultimately changed her future plans.  Sarah has decided to pursue a PhD in the geography of philanthropy, where she hopes to research the spatial distribution of philanthropy and discover its impact on local communities.

From one advertisement for a “good University job with decent hours,” Sarah has found her career.  What would she say to students considering joining the team? “Do it.  The team spirit and atmosphere is great – but more importantly you’ll learn skills and meet people who can inspire you to careers you never dreamed of.”  For Sarah, it has certainly made all the difference.


A Student Ambassador shares her favourite ‘prospective student’ questions

George ParkerBy George Parker, a Student Ambassador and third-year student studying French and Modern History

I might be slightly biased, but I think St Andrews is pretty great. It’s such a unique place –  which is difficult to express in a prospectus, but talking to a current student can really bring the university to life. I became an ambassador because I want applicants to understand what an amazing place it is and the wonderful student experience that they would have. Everybody sees us on those occasional Wednesdays throughout the year, emblazoned in our red gowns and shepherding large groups around town, inevitably blocking everybody’s way as we stop to point out the Union and the library. But what is being an ambassador really all about? It’s about being helpful and enthusiastic, and suffering a great deal of nostalgia for the beginning of our first year.

‘So what do students do around here for fun?’

The main concern of prospective students is not the quality of teaching, the career prospects or library facilities; the most common question that I get asked whilst working as a student ambassador is how we students entertain ourselves in this tiny grey town, barren of nightclubs, shopping centres and multi-screen cinemas. Two years of experience as a student ambassador means I have now perfected a speech to give in response to this query, detailing the vast range of societies and activities, and the wide variety of events that are organised. Hopefully I manage to convince them; it’s really important as an ambassador to put across the most positive image of the university that you can. Of course, the prospective students are generally too timid to ask many questions, even though they’re probably bursting with numerous queries and endless fears.

‘So what do students REALLY do around here for fun?’

Parents, on the other hand, are true quizmasters. I enjoy chatting to the parents and guardians, and I think it definitely helps put their minds at rest to hear a current student share their positive experiences of the university. At the end of the day, they just want to imagine that their children will be happy here at St Andrews.  For parents, accommodation is a top concern, as is the availability of part-time jobs, and how easy it is to make friends. Sensible questions indeed. Although I do sometimes wish that we were given the chance to impart the essential student knowledge, such as the fancy-dress that will be needed for Fresher’s Week, and where to find the best coffee in St Andrews.

There’s a question which nobody ever asks outright, but everybody should: will I enjoy my time at St Andrews? And I would be able to promise them with the utmost confidence that they will. Of course, in the midst of essay deadlines, or at the back of the queue in the library café, life here might not seem so idyllic. Yet overall I believe that future students will have a fantastic experience.

Being an ambassador is definitely a rewarding job, to imagine that you are responsible for shaping a person’s perception of the university. Whether we are welcoming prospective students at College Hall, or taking them on tour around the town and attempting to describe the surreal-yet-incredible experience of the May Dip, ambassadors are representing the university: a huge and highly enjoyable responsibility!

We know that parents often have as many questions as their students.  One resource available to parents is the Family Programme,  which enables families to be part of the St Andrews community, keeps them up to date with developments at the University and provides ways in which they can contribute to and share in its achievements.  By registering for the Family Programme, which is free of charge, parents automatically receive:

  • Membership to the St Andrews online alumni community and a range of benefits and services;
  • University newsletters
  • Access to our online Love from Home service which we run in cooperation with Fisher & Donaldson, our local baker and confectioner, to allow you to send your loved ones treats during term time.

Learn more or register for the Family Programme at our website.