By Daniel Dunaief
We are back to shopping for college. There’s a familiar rhythm to this search that, the second time through, brings a more relaxed pace. Now that my wife and I have taken about a dozen college tours, we’ve noticed patterns. Please find below some observations:
• The library gets quieter the higher its location. Every school we’ve toured has suggested that people will throw visual daggers at you on the top floor if you drop your pencil. Move to a lower floor to cough. In the effort to differentiate one school from another, a clever college ought to invert the quiet pyramid. The logistics would be challenging, with people stepping onto a floor of silence, but it would make clear how serious students were in the library and would defy the usual expectations about noise on each floor.
• Showcase dorm rooms aren’t real. Yes, the rooms everyone sees are, of course, actual rooms, but they have considerably less stuff, no irrational roommates who scream in their sleep, and are better lit than the freshmen rooms most of our kids will occupy. Somehow, the temperature in these rooms is perfect for almost everyone. Many rooms, however, are way too hot or too cold for one, two or the three people jammed into a space that will feel like the garbage chute in the original “Star Wars” as the year progresses.
• Some tour guides will share their food choices, preferences and idiosyncrasies because it makes them charming. We may not have the same aversion to Vegan Tuesdays, but we will undoubtedly remember the school because some lacrosse player in desperate need of a haircut who sings hates vegan food.
• Tour guides are friendly. Yeah, I know, shocking, right? But, while they are talking to us, many wave to friends as they speak. Are they really waving at someone? Is one person walking back and forth? The whole “everyone loves me and I love everyone” shtick seems rehearsed. Then again, maybe tour guides really do have friends everywhere.
• Some information sessions and tours seem to have left something crucial out of the discussion: Who wouldn’t be a great fit for their extraordinary school? Schools might save themselves — and prospective students — trouble if they helped these eager high school seniors and juniors get a better idea of what might not work for them. None of the schools offer an amalgamated profile of the type of student who typically transfers anywhere else. They should, right? Wouldn’t it help to know that the snow which starts in September and ends in May drives some students away? Or that the competitive atmosphere on campus doesn’t work for some students? What have the schools learned from some of their admissions mistakes?
• People on tours generally look and sound tired. Most of the kids seem to be praying that their parents don’t embarrass them by asking too many questions. When asked what they plan to major in, they respond with something like “blobology” or “Idunnonotsure.” The introductory phase of the tour rarely creates cohesion among a group taking turns to hold doors open for each other.
• Tour guides attempt to share college humor by highlighting their personal deficiencies. In between waving to their extended group of friends, these guides point to a chemistry building or a music hall and suggest that they have absolutely no skills in those fields whatsoever and are in awe of their peers, who seem to be speaking a foreign language when they explain their passion for molecular biology.
• These guides pick majors and minors like they’re at an ice cream store: They have one scoop of biology, two small scoops of elementary education and sociology, and a sprinkling of criminal justice.