Over the past two years I’ve had the privilege of visiting seven colleges, one of them twice, and I can honestly say that these visits for the most part did little to sway me to applying to any of them. If anything they made it harder. College visits are choreographed with no room for deviation, no time to linger on a topic, so that your tour guide can rush you from point to point, focusing on the pros and skipping over the cons. This is informative, but not in a way that helps. When I visited the University of Maryland, I was given a personal tour of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism by one of the professors, capped off by a visit to the dean’s office. In my first visit to American University, I received the basic tour. So even though it would have been much more expensive for me to pick Maryland, I was still torn; the people at Maryland had been so kind to me! How could I betray them?
I wasn’t betraying them, of course. I was under no obligation to choose Maryland, and I’m glad I did pick American in the end. It’s a better school for me, and much less likely to leave me in debt. But colleges manipulate you. They appeal to your emotions, not to your head, because they’re trying to sell you a product, and no salesman tries to get his mark to think critically.
I just flew back in from D.C., back from visiting American University for the second time. This visit was special, only open to admitted honors students. Unlike the regular tour I went on one year ago, I spent this one with regular students -not just the handpicked spokespeople- normal men and women who stay up to ungodly hours and sleep through their classes; frat boys and sorority sisters; professionals who intern on the Hill and slackers that are panicking over having to finally pick a major. Honest to God real people. It was a blast, and what ultimately lead to my decision.
So here’s my advice for college visits; skip the tour, and meet the students. They’re really the ones who know the school the best.