Mind over (Weather) Matters

As I pack my bags and prepare to head off to Richmond, Virginia on Wednesday to helm the college fair at the 2012 Equine Extravaganza at Richmond International Raceway (if I can get a flight out of Detroit, that is), I – like so many other people living on or traveling to the East Coast this week – am tuned into the Weather Channel, the Today show (love that Al Roker!), and any other weather-related media outlet I can find to monitor the path of Hurricane Sandy and see how she will impact my travel plans.  A similar weather event happened around this time last year when the blizzard struck New England just as I was packing my bags to head over to Equine Affaire in West Springfield, Massachusetts.  (My blog entry preceding that trip can be found here.)

No matter what the weather, I love campus tours! (This day on Albion College’s campus might have been sunny, but it sure was windy!)  Photo credit:  Dave Lawrence

Now, a less confident person might suspect that perhaps Mother Nature was trying (not so subtly) to tell me to just stay home for once – but not me.  No.  I view these little weather snafus as merely inconvenient and an exercise in creative scheduling (to say nothing of creative packing!) and proceed with my plan.  A big part of my job is visiting college campuses and, much like the US Postal Service, I can’t let a little rain or sleet keep me from going.

If you’re a high school student with a tour scheduled for one of your potential colleges or universities, I strongly suggest that you do the same because, no matter where you go, inclement weather happens.  Unless you’re looking at a school in balmy San Diego or humid Houston, the chances of you encountering the forces of nature on a campus tour are quite good – especially as winter approaches the greater part of the United States on not-so-stealthy feet here in the next few months.  (Also worth noting – If you are looking at schools in balmy San Diego or humid Houston, the weather can still work against you.  Earthquakes and hurricanes are no strangers to either city, so it’s best to be prepared wherever you go.)

Are there advantages to seeing campuses under less than ideal circumstances?  Definitely!

Here are three:

  1. If you love it when it’s ugly outside, you’ll love it when it’s beautiful.  This is a statement that my students hear from me repeatedly because it’s one of my mantras.  Every college and university web site and publication from every school in the U.S. (and abroad!) features campuses where the sun always shines, the trash is always removed from the sidewalks, and the students are always smiling and wearing the university’s logo emblazoned across their sweatshirts.  It’s called marketing and it’s not untrue – but it’s not a realistic representation of what every single day on that particular campus is like either.  So think about it – if you check out your number one school in icy New England in the middle of February on a gray, subzero day and you come away thinking, “I really love this place!” despite the weather, then you’re still going to feel the same way on a perfect 70 degree day in September.  The bad weather actually helps you to discern what you really like about a particular school beneath its pretty exterior – kind of like all those times in elementary school when your teachers told you not to judge a book by its cover.  (Summary:  Your second grade teacher was spot on.)
  2. You can learn more about a school when everything goes wrong on a visit than you can when everything goes right.  Similar to my point above about not judging a book by what’s on its cover, I have always believed that the true personality of a campus emerges when the rain is pouring down in buckets, thunder is rolling across the sky, and the sidewalks are washing away before your eyes.  Think about it:  On a beautiful crisp fall day, it’s so easy for tour guides and admission staff to smile and welcome you to their campus because everyone’s in a great mood and all is right with the world.  But take away the great weather, replace it with less-than-ideal tour conditions, and see how everyone handles it.  If the admission staff and tour guides are still laughing and light-hearted about the situation and if they find creative ways to still help you find out all of the information you need about their school, chances are you’re in a great place.  But if everything falls apart and the staff and current students all seem to accept it as par for the course with a negative attitude that would make Eeyorelook like an optimist, that might indicate a campus community that you don’t want to become a part of .

    If you see me on your campus tour and it’s a rainy day, I’ll be easy to spot in my trusty bumblebee boots!
  3. You’ll learn a lot about the services and support offered on campus and in the surrounding community.  Is there a well-stocked grocery store near campus where students can purchase supplies?  Are the sidewalks and streets adequately plowed after a substantial snowfall?  What changes (if any) are made to local mass transit when the weather is bad?  Answers to those questions and more should be readily available anytime you visit a campus but are normally brought to the forefront by inclement weather.  I remember back to my undergraduate years when three feet of snow fell suddenly overnight during final exams and every student who was leaving campus for the semester break had to make appointments with our grounds crew to have their cars shoveled out.  It was a situation that, handled badly, could have created a lot of problems between the school and the students but, because it was handled so well, I actually have fond memories of that time.  And, in my later years as a campus tour guide, I told that story to countless families as a real-life example of how community-oriented and friendly our campus was.  (Do you think that sold many of them on the school?  I suspect that it did!)

Now, please don’t think that by endorsing campus visits in poor weather that I’m saying you should venture out in blizzard conditions or stick with that already-scheduled tour at Rutgers as Sandy bears down on the New Jersey shoreline.  That’s not my argument at all.  (In fact, if you have a campus visit scheduled when bad weather strikes, I always recommend calling ahead to confirm that the campus is open and tours are going on.  If you’re looking at a New England or mid-Atlantic school this week, this is highly recommended for you!)

What I am saying here is that you shouldn’t hold out for that perfect 70 degree day with sunshine and a warm breeze and the chirping of birds to investigate the schools that you’re interested in.  If you wait around for the perfect visit scenario, you’re going to miss out on the realities of each and every school you visit – and the realities are going to make up every day of the next four years of your life, so it’s far better to discover them early on in the process rather than after you’ve already matriculated.

So pack your umbrella, a water and wind-proof jacket, and whatever other inclement weather items you’ll need and register for those campus visits today.  Maybe I’ll even see you there!  (I’ll be the one wearing the yellow bumblebee boots if it’s raining.)  And if you want help figuring out what campuses might be good ones for you to see, let me know.

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