Thursday, November 15, 2007

College Tours: Does your Guide Own a Mac or a PC?

In response to a parent’s question regarding the necessity of owning a laptop in college, the two leaders of our tour responded:

“I have a Mac”, the other, “I have a PC”.

I laughed the way my youngest daughter describes a laugh that you can’t let anyone see: “I was laughing inside my head”. Other than my daughter and her friend, I don’t think anyone else saw the humor, but it was as if we were watching a Mac commercial unfold in front of us. As the tour progressed, I kept seeing it over and over again -the stark differences between these two students: in their appearance, their response to questions, their knowledge about the school, their perceptions, their outlooks.

College tours are supposed to give you and your child a good sense of a school - to help you decide if it would be a “good fit”, as we are forever reminded by guidance counselors and admissions directors. This is my third go around on the college circuit and still I am baffled. If either my PC or Mac friend had been the sole leader on this tour, our impressions of the school would have been entirely different. In fact, we may not have even stuck around for the whole thing. So many times we have literally crossed a school off the list because of a disconnect with the tour guide - and in some excruciating cases we’ve even “ditched” early by hanging back and making a run for it.

It was only pure luck that we got this dueling duo -- nobody could decide how to fairly divide our relatively small group, so we agreed to all venture out together. You have to figure that every school attracts a spectrum of students, but there also had to be some common thread that bound these two, something that attracted both of them to the same school and something that the admissions office believed would make them both good “fits”. They both were very friendly and outgoing, qualities that make great tour guides - but it was so evident that their interactions, viewpoints and experiences at this school were profoundly different.

By the end, as frustrated as the two guides may actually have been with each other, at their expense, unquestionably this was my best college tour. How else would we have seen such a rich portrayal of the life of a student on this campus? And as colleges and universities have certain reputations for attracting certain “types” of students, there is no doubt that all types exist on every campus. If these two could co-exist on this small campus, and even be enthusiastic about it, just like the Mac and PC are finally on speaking terms, then it is encouraging to think that the admissions offices use some broad criteria to find that “best fit”.

I have learned over the years that the college search process is entirely subjective. Sure, Admissions offices offer objective measures like test scores, grades, admission rates and student/faculty ratios to help us evaluate whether a school might be a good choice, but in reality it’s the tour and the information session that packs the greatest punch. It affects our decision every time. It’s the same with acceptance decisions. Applicants submit their objective criteria but in reality it’s the subjective materials, the essay, the application and the recommendations that have the greatest influence. In the end, the choice to apply and the choice to admit is equally based on the gut feelings of the decision makers themselves.

I imagine when College Admissions Offices hires their guides, they have a set of “guide criteria”: good public speaking, friendliness, attitude, and enthusiasm about their college experience. For the future, it may be worth it for them to also ask whether they own a Mac or PC and then, they should pair up the two students to give joint tours. It may be the only way to get a true picture of a potential college. Either that or we should go back for multiple tours and visits - and who has the time for that?


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minivan diaries said...

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