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Although Montreal is locked in the first real cold snap of a long-overdue winter, the final preparations for McGill's Open House are heating up.
On Jan. 28, thousands of prospective students and their friends and family members will descend on the downtown campus to learn about the school whose crest they may soon be sporting. In addition to faculty information sessions, campus tours and student panels, visitors will be treated to a host of activities and exhibitions designed to highlight the width and breadth of the McGill experience. Ancient objects unearthed during archaeological excavations will stand in contrast to the high-tech glint of a student-built electric snowmobile and a Formula SAE racing car.
Although it only lasts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the event represents a huge logistical undertaking. Howard Tontini, director of marketing and planning for the admissions, recruitment and registrar's office, compares organizing Open House to planning a royal wedding — with some 4,500 extra guests of honour. "We've been working on this for the past eight months," he said. "Along with Convocation and Homecoming, this is one of the major events of the year." In all, some 700 volunteers — including students, staff, professors and administrators from across McGill's faculties, professional schools, units and departments — have been galvanized into action for the Sunday meet-and-greet.
The free shuttle bus service, which began in 2000 to bring people from Sherbrooke, has expanded over the years to serve outlying areas of the province from Ste. Foy to Thetford Mines. But while the majority of prospective students come from Quebec, Open House attracts people from across Canada and around the world. Last year alone, students came from such far-off spots as Argentina, France, Iran, Japan and Tanzania.
For the majority of visitors, Open House will be the first time they set foot on campus, one reason why organizers like Debra Blanch, events administrator for the admissions, recruitment and registrar's office, are so intent on making sure that the first impression is a good one.
"Survey data has shown that the most important factor in deciding to apply to a university or accept an offer is the campus visit," she said. "Just as you want to get in and drive the car you'll be buying, students and parents want to see the university where they'll be spending some important years of their life."