Confessions of the college selection process: beware campus visits

Chen_CollegeVisitsBY TROY PHILLIPS

Early this week, I completely flipped my college shortlist on its head. After a few conversations with a close friend and a general lack of direction as to where I would take my (limited) talents post high school, I decided to make Bradley University my leading destination, despite the fact that I had never even given it a second thought until a few days previous.

And that got me thinking; I’ve been doing this college search crap for a long time. Let me tell you, it’s a convoluted, over hyped process that I no doubt completed in a disorderly, half-assed fashion, but either way I’ve learned a few things that are worth sharing. This week, I cover the college visitation process, which has a far more positive reputation than it should.

Once you do a bit of preliminary searching to see which schools meet your basic prerequisites (cost, proximity, size etc.), the real first step in the process is the god forsaken college visits. They are typically spread out nicely during one’s junior year of high school, or crammed into the beginning/middle of your senior year if you’re a procrastination artist like myself. And oh, how I hated them. (And still hate them, since I’m a masochist who can’t make up his mind and still has multiple visits to knock out before school year’s end.)

Wait, why are these treks such a nightmare? Aren’t they an important chance to see your potential future home up close and personal and maybe enjoy a bit of local flavor along the way? Hell no. They’re an excuse to push your vehicle and your patience to the limit as you journey for hours down to a destination where you’ll only stay for a few hours tops before heading back to the homestead.

More often than not, the travel time for visits far exceeds the time spent actually learning about a given university. Six or seven hours of letting greasy McDonald’s bags congeal in your vehicle while planning your next four years down to where you’ll keep your calculus book with your parent(s) might be tolerable for some, but for me it sounds like a day I would only imagine in order to wish it on my worst enemy. Hold onto your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because that’s not even the worst part of the ordeal.

The campus information session/tour is the main course of your expedition, and so logically it’s also the lowlight. Have a seat in a conference room with dozens of other pretentious high schoolers and their overly concerned parents while an admissions counselor drones on for the better part of an hour about every reason under the sun (and then some under the moon) why you should help them keep their job. Since everyone is still in the “gee wiz, I can do anything I set my mind to!” phase, you’ll find yourself seated with five future doctors, three lawyers, an international business savant and the next Bryant Gumbel, all in one room. Wow, maybe it would be good to network with all these up-and-coming rulers of the universe.

Once the lecturing portion of the tour is complete, you’re ready to get up and awkwardly gravitate toward a zealous current student who is chomping at the bit to prove they’re the best damned volunteer tour guide that State Tech has to offer. If they are, you probably won’t notice. 

Another precious hour is devoted to traipsing around a crowded campus and listening to the same inane facts you just heard but certainly forgot while listening to one or two parents of future rulers treat the time like a prep session for the BAR exam. Oh, the questions you’ll hear. What are the hours at the library? What’s the best way for students to transport themselves around campus? How many countries are included in the study abroad program? And, of course, the ever-appealing and essentially unanswerable favorite- how safe is campus?

Really? A year and a half out you need to know if your kid can check out Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief at 11 p.m.? You expect someone to tell you they’re dropping 40 grand a year at a place where they fear for their life between classes? And to think, one of these titans of society might be your roommate come next fall. By the end of it all, you’ll be happy to slink back to your vehicle and bury your head in one of those empty bags of fast food.

Word to the wise, schedule college visits on school days. At least that way you’ll be missing a day of class while an uppity tour guide brags about their school’s 79th ranked engineering program. More importantly, keep the visits to a minimum and try to knock out multiple spots on the same day. Less is more in this scenario. Group schools with similar reputations and try to pinpoint one that stands out instead of hitting three or four campuses that could masquerade as carbon copies with changing color schemes.

You’ll be led to believe the visitation process is an exciting way to kick off your search from higher education, but see them for what they are: a necessary evil that, once endured, bring you that much closer to the ultimate destination.

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