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I am currently knees-deep in college applications, supplements, and what-have-you, but I thought I would take some time to reflect on college visits, arguably the most exciting part of the college process (other than finishing it).  For those of you who haven’t gone on any college visits, essentially you go to a college, attend an information session where they throw statistics and fun facts at you, and then go on a guided tour where you walk around campus and view the buildings.  College visits are like trying on shoes.  You try them on, hear about the qualities that make it great, and then ultimately try on way too many in the search of the “perfect one.”  Except with shoes you wouldn’t fly across the country to try them on, and the shoe wouldn’t have to pick you to wear it.

The analogy’s strange, but so are college visits.  When my mom applied for college all she did was flip through a giant book with all the colleges in it (along with brief descriptions) and then pick out a few, and apply.  There was no flying from Indonesia to America to visit them in person.  On the other hand, my cousin, who also lives in Indonesia, visited over a dozen colleges on the East Coast to the West Coast last summer while applying.  I imagine that in the future the college process will get even more ridiculous, although I’m not sure how.

I’ve also visited my fair share of schools.  While each school is a bit different, each school is also inexplicably the same.  It doesn’t matter where you go, you will always get a bunch of brochures touting “small student-to-faculty ratio” and “great study-abroad opportunities.”  And the school will always find some statistic claiming they are “the best.”  Heads up, colleges.  You can’t all be the best.  Where are your facts from?  I want to see a proper bibliography in MLA format.

The brochures are not all that’s entertaining about college visits.  The people that visit are also interesting.  Below is a list of people you’re bound to see while visiting schools.

  1. The kid wearing a college sweatshirt from a different college than they are currently touring at.  (What are you even doing?  Do you know where you are?)
  2. The kid who asks way too many questions and brown-noses the guide.
  3. The parent who asks way too many questions and brown-noses the guide as their kid blushes in the background.
  4. The tourists that have accidentally joined the group and are just there now.
  5. The parent who tapes the entire tour.  For no apparent reason.  No one wants to see your shaky, hour-long video, buddy.
  6. The sibling that is way too young to be visiting the school and looks insanely bored.
  7. The kid who comes into the information session way too late and disrupts everyone.

Look out for these people while you visit.  If you don’t see them, then you’re probably that person.  As for me, I have been late to many an information session, and my sister (who’s nine), has been the reluctant member of many a tour group.

Cynicism aside, college visits are extremely helpful.  There’s only so much you can learn from a website, and technology isn’t so great yet that the virtual thing is as good as the real thing.  You can fall in love (and out of love) with schools just by stepping onto campus.  The tour guides give you a great feeling of the school and while your opinion of the school can sometimes be colored by how much you like your guide, you can still get a pretty accurate picture of what your life would be like at that school.

Maybe it’s as you look around at a field full of happy students, or eat at a great bakery in the city the school is located in that you realize what you are looking for in a school.  Maybe you fall in love with the library or the auditorium.  It can even be as small as seeing a girl in a blue morph suit prance around in front of a club’s booth that makes you realize how fun the school is.

Some quick advice before I leave you.  If you have to choose between the two, go on the guided tour and skip the information session (you can often find all that info online).  Try to avoid visiting more than two schools in one day.  Believe it or not, college visits are tiring.  Listen to the college counselors – they’re great at suggesting schools.  Enter with an open mind.  Schools you may not think you like may be the ones that strike you the most.  Dress for the right weather (sometimes this means rain and snow and proper walking shoes).  Take little notes of what you like to help you remember. Don’t be afraid to ask questions on the tours.  Have fun!  Take the opportunity to really learn about the school, students, and life there.  Sit in on a class, have a drink in the café, meander the grounds on your own.  Who knows, it could be where you spend the next four years of your life.

By Karina Gunadi
Originally printed in Counterpoint October 23, 2014
Castilleja School