Despite having toured only two colleges over spring break, I’m already dreading the application questions asking me to explain why (insert college name) is the right school for me.
The first college I visited was Vassar, a 2,477-person liberal arts school in Poughkeepsie, a cute but slightly rundown-looking town in upstate New York. The campus was so jaw-droppingly beautiful that I was already suspecting that I’d accidentally ended up at Hogwarts even before I passed a crowd of people straddling broomsticks and passing around a Quaffle.
The library was several stories tall and featured huge tapestries and stained-glass windows. So its rows of computers looked a little out of place, as did the phones that hung beside signs reading “Ask a librarian!”
It was hard to visit without picturing myself studying in buildings that are practically castles. Unfortunately, that’s not really a reason to attend that’s worthy of a college essay.
Less superficially, Vassar has an interesting approach to education. Everyone must take one writing class, one numbers-based class (which can be anything from calculus to psychology), and one foreign language class (which can be tested out of). Those are the only core requirements. The idea that I might be able to completely avoid boring classes was exciting.
Everything else about Vassar was fairly progressive as well. I liked the housing, which doesn’t separate people based on grade or special interests. The only exception is the one all-girl house and the apartment option for seniors.
But probably the biggest draw for me was the Country Day-sized classes. I don’t relish the idea of sitting in a 500-person lecture hall and having teachers who don’t know my name.
By the time I left Vassar, I was sold. Everything about it (except possibly Poughkeepsie) seemed wonderful.
Then I went to Columbia.
Columbia is an Ivy League school in Manhattan with 29,250 students. Vassar’s 2,477 had seemed like a lot to me.
My first impression was that New York City was wonderful and I wanted to move there right away, but I’ll refrain from definitive judgment until I’ve spent more than half a day there.
Everything about the city and the college was overwhelming. The info session was held in the same high-ceilinged, echoey room that hosts the Pulitzer Prizes. That in itself would have been intimidating enough, but I really started to feel like this school was out of my league when the presenter said that, in the absence of programs like IB, it was all right if applicants took “only a handful of AP classes.”
Just being in the vicinity of so much smartness made me feel dizzy.
A large part of the presentation was spent boasting about Columbia’s Core, the set of classes everyone at the school must take. According to the presenter, most people love the curriculum because it puts everyone on equal footing and gives them things to talk about. That seemed like a perfectly legitimate argument to me, despite the fact that I had loved Vassar’s lack of required classes.
I left Columbia amazed by its grandeur and pretentiousness. I loved the school, but didn’t have much to say about why it would be a better fit for me than the thousands of other colleges in the country.
I visited two colleges that were practically polar opposites and thought both were fantastic. Vassar is small—great, there will be a feeling of community. Columbia is big—great, there will be tons of interesting people to meet. I had the same thought process wherever the two colleges differed; I found reasons to love both their policies.
I’m not expecting to go to (or get accepted to) either Vassar or Columbia, but visiting them gave me a great overview of two different types of schools.
Figuring out what kind of college I actually want to go to—and worse, how I’m going to explain to 10 different colleges why they’re all my perfect fit—is going to be daunting.