MELISSA’S LETTERS: Dear fellow juniors, when college tours start blurring together, better go with your heart

To my fellow undecided classmates,

So I, like many of you, went to go visit colleges over spring break. I’ve visited lots of great colleges, including Brown, Williams, Vassar, Columbia, LMU, Caltech and Stanford.

“Choosing” which of these colleges to apply to is a joke because anyone would love to get the opportunity to attend any one of them. It’s less about us choosing them and more about these great schools accepting us. Yet at the same time there are around 3,200 colleges in the U.S., and many of them are great schools. We can’t apply to all of them, so we have to make some decisions.

When on the tours and information sessions, you always hear a similar line: “So I know all these tours may start to be blurring together . . .” I snicker on the inside. Of course they’re all blurring together! Millions of dollars of funding, small teacher-to-student ratios, small class sizes, endless internship and research opportunities, great teachers. . . blah blah blah. It all sounds fabulous; it’s just a matter of getting in.

In fact, some of these schools have such ridiculous acceptance rates—like Stanford at 5% and Brown at 6%—that it’s really a matter of chance whether you get in or not, even if you are totally qualified, especially because the college admission process at such selective schools is very subjective.

I laugh even harder at the line that follows “So I know all these tours may start to be blurring together”: ” . . .but what really makes our school special is the people.”

That’s it. That’s all they say.  They don’t say what about the people. Just “the people.” So vague. So mysterious. Soooooo helpful.

They say this line as if it will be the deciding factor in our decision to apply to their college. Many of the tour guides and my friends who are in college also say the same thing. . . “the people.” That’s their favorite thing about their school.

Yes, I have no doubt, Stanford, that at a five percent acceptance rate you have some of the brightest minds in the country. Same with you, Brown; same with the rest of you. At any of these colleges you will find smart, driven, interesting and diverse people.

Yet I found that the people who gave the tours and information sessions did leave the greatest impact on me about the schools. I don’t want this to be the case. I know judging a school by the two or three people I talked to while I was there is a terrible way to decide where to go to school.

The school’s campus is probably the next thing I noticed the most. I couldn’t help but come out with a better view of the schools with the prettier campuses, even though that’s also not what’s most important about a school. If it was sunny out the day I visited one school while it was raining the day I visited another, I would probably get a better impression of the school that I visited the sunnier day. Since Williams was on spring break it seemed empty and desolate, while other schools seemed more lively and happy because class was in session and there were lots of kids. I tried to fight these feelings, which I thought would not be good factors in deciding which colleges I should apply.

At the end of the Brown tour, one of my tour guides addressed this. It started off with the usual, “So I know all these tours may start to be blurring together. . .” and then without fail, the “. . .but what really makes our school special is the people.”

But then he said something else. He told us why he decided to come to Brown. He said he was on the plane back from visiting Brown after he had gotten accepted just a couple days before he needed to make his decision and that the guy he was sitting next to on the plane turned out to be a Brown alumnus. “You should always trust your intuition,” the tour guide said. He told us that he was studying psychology (or something, I don’t quite remember, but something that made his comment credible and convincing.) “Your intuition is the most cognitive part of your body.”

So I’ve decided to give my intuition a little more credit from now on. It may give me feelings and impressions from less reliable sources, but when trying to decide between schools that all seem quite similar, perhaps it’s a good thing just to be able to make decisions from any kind of impression you get even if it’s just from one person you met at the school.

If it’s raining the day you visit a school and you have a miserable time on the tour, maybe it’s just a sign from the universe.

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