Confessions of a College Visitor

Confessions of a College Visitor

By Jordan Dalton and Naomi Farahan

Last weekend, we took a trip to a small liberal arts college in a nearby state. It will remain unnamed. Apparently, there is a science to college visiting, and it is one we have yet to perfect.

We started off our long car ride far too early. After a nutritious breakfast of Egg McMuffins and hash browns (except for Naomi who’s too good for fast food and chose a yogurt parfait), we half-slept for hours, only to awake smack dab in the middle of nowhere. There was no Wal-Mart, no CVS – just cornfields, autoshops, and the occasional house.

Twisting along country roads, it was impossible to miss the school. It was the only sign of civilization for miles. The admissions building was a church-like abode, clad in portraits of clergymen raising their eyebrows at the “liberal” arts school that had become of their seminary. Shelves were lined with pamphlets celebrating the (one or two) famous alumni. We wondered, was the college selling itself, or were we supposed to make the impression? There were arguments for both: prospective students paced in suits while ten dollar literary magazines were offered for free.

The admissions counselor had us sit in a circle, providing a holistic, let’s-hold-hands-and-sing-kumbaya experience. “35 majors,” he said. “Common app,” he said. He knew the words and numbers that would woo the audience, and especially the parents in the room. They were the same statistics repeated during every college visit experience – flashcard-worthy percentages, acceptance rates, and stories about the success of job-hunting graduates.

A tip for fellow college visitors: ask the right questions. Stick to the university’s strong suits. You’re dying to know about learning a second language, science lab accessibility, and travel opportunities. Don’t ask about something  you know the school doesn’t offer, like local ethnic restaurants. Trust us. It is harrowing to watch the college representative squirm, only to say “no” and change the subject to something only loosely related, like the farm-to-cafeteria service. “We hang cows,” he said. “No, not live ones,” he answered. “No, not with a noose,” he insisted.

While taking the walking tour, try not to laugh when the tour guide trips. They’re walking backwards. It’s hard. And even if you don’t care about the theatre program, try and act excited as you tour the stage (after stage, after stage…). When in doubt, use the always reliable “Well, it’s pretty.”

Pretty or not, every school will claim to be the “perfect college.” But we’re all looking for something different. Maybe the Taco Bell on 106th and Michigan is as ethnic as you’re willing to go. And that’s okay. The college admissions process isn’t perfect. We’re presented as grades and volunteer hours. We’re selling our ideal selves in the form of college applications. Schools are selling themselves with statistics and semi-forgotten celebrities. So don’t look for the perfect college, because you aren’t the perfect student. Rather, look for the college that’s right for you. It might even be this one.

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