I don’t mind all this “caring about my future” business, not really.
I just wish somebody had told me it would be so hard. Maybe then I wouldn’t be getting up at the crack of dawn, visiting every college from Portland to Poughkeepsie.
My family and I toured something like 16 different colleges in a little over a week in the middle of August. A trip like this demands copious notes, because after several colleges the mind begins to break. The tour guides meld into one cheerful, backwards-walking amalgam, and the info sessions turn into a blur of figures, test ranges and business cards.
Another peculiar aspect of a college marathon is that you start to recognize patterns.
Like Neo, I too could see the Matrix.
What stands out the most is the vocabulary, which is recycled from campus to campus.
Take, for example, the phrase “We’re a competitive institution.” Translation: “You haven’t an ice cube’s chance in hell of getting in, but we’ll take the acceptance rate bump.”
Instead of smashing our dreams with a hammer, they quietly smother them while we lie unsuspecting in our beds. It’s a kindness, really.
Another one, used almost exclusively at rural schools, was “We’re not a suitcase school.” Translation: “There is nothing around us but trees, so find something to do on campus.”
At times I felt a lot like the kid from “The Shining.”
“Come and play with us, Grant,” said the dead-eyed students of Middlebury, “forever, and ever and ever.”
While vocabulary is your primary key to understanding a college tour guide, grammar is also key. You see, in college tour guide-ese, the more “nevers” the guides put into a statement, the less true it is.
For instance, when the guide from New York University puts about seven “nevers” before stating how she never feels unsafe and that she never worries about walking alone late at night, what she really means is “Our on-campus security is the NYPD, who have more serious crimes to not respond to.”
The same rule of “inverse negativity” applies to statements about the weather.
Yes, Bowdoin representative, I understand the winter wasn’t a big adjustment for you even better the sixth time. No, I still don’t believe you, because you’re from California like me. We’re a delicate people.
On an unrelated note: never be the only person from a warm state on a tour group for a cold college. The smug looks from all the New Englanders will drive you insane. Sure, I may be an hour-long drive away from the nearest snowline, but that doesn’t mean I’ve never seen the stuff.
Remember: the language of the admissions office is one of posturing and sugar-coating. Learn it well.
Previously published in the print edition on Sept. 16, 2014.