The Truth is Out There

During my undergraduate days, my Sunday nights were filled with the following activities: homework (that admittedly should have been done earlier – sorry, Mom), pizza (the weekly splurge of perpetually broke students), and episodes of The X Files. For those of you who remember this classic series (and eagerly await the reboot!), you no doubt also remember its famous tagline: “The truth is out there.”

Mulder and Scully would make excellent additions to any campus tour.
Mulder and Scully would make excellent additions to any campus tour.

I bring up The X Files (and its tagline) because I recently completed a campus tour accompanied by my dad for the first time since he accompanied me on my own college search. (Note to anyone who wants to travel with me: If there’s a college I haven’t seen in the vicinity of our destination, we will stop. This is the lesson Dad learned firsthand.) But clearly the experience made a very strong impression on him, because after spending a little over an hour touring a campus in a small group with a few students and their parents (all of whom had traveled in from far out of state to be there) and attending an hour-long information session with an admission counselor, he observed an alarming something that I’ve noticed more and more during my own campus tour experiences:

No one asks questions.

You see, readers, back in the days of my own college search, my dad (and my mom too) were the self-designated Fox Mulder and Dana Scully of the campus tour. I didn’t necessarily know what to ask about the schools we visited, but they did – and, as the financial backers for my foray into higher education, it was vitally important to them that they know exactly what they would be paying for when I eventually enrolled at my final choice institution:

Who would teach me?

Where would I go when I needed help with a problem?

What would I eat and where would I sleep?

What other necessary and beneficial services would their tuition dollars purchase for me during my college career?

The truth was out there – and my parents were determined to find it by asking as many questions as they could on each and every visit to each and every campus. (And yes, I admit that teenage me was embarrassed by this.) Tour guides, admission staff, faculty – no one was safe from their line of questioning. And now that I’m an educational consultant, I often go on specially-arranged tours with groups of other counseling professionals, wherein we collectively ask enough questions to make the Spanish Inquisition look unobtrusive.

(Needless to say, I’m used to being on tours where questions fly through the air at a rapid pace.)

But lately when I’ve toured campuses on my own, I’ve noticed that parents and students seem strangely reticent to ask any questions of tour guides or admission staff members at all and this troubles me greatly. College is one of the most significant investments of time and money that families can make. College is an experience (both educational and personal) that shapes and influences the entire course of a student’s adult life.

Summary: College is a really big deal.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve been in the process of searching for a young FEI dressage prospect for approximately the last fourteen months. It’s a process that’s become somewhat a side job of my side job – and let me tell you, over the course of my ongoing search, I’ve asked a lot of breeders and a lot of trainers a lot of questions. I’ve researched pedigrees online; I’ve done exhaustive reading about pre-purchase exams; and I’ve consulted every young horse specialist I know about benchmarks for young horses and ways to assess potential.

And you know what?

I’m going to spend one quarter the amount of money on a young horse that a parent spends (on average) on their child’s college education and if I buy a horse that winds up not working out for me in a few years, I can turn around, sell it, and purchase another. That’s a far easier process than transferring between colleges or leaving college altogether and setting out on the open job market.

So why aren’t parents and students seizing the opportunity to use their campus visit to ask the questions I know they must have about prospective campuses? Why are they spending considerable money to fly across the country, drive across state lines, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, and see prospective schools and then choosing (for it has to be a choice!) not to follow through on the entire purpose of the trip?

Why aren’t they taking a page from Mulder and Scully and looking for the truth of the prospective colleges?

For once, readers, I don’t really have any potential answers to offer to the questions I’ve posed. I ask a lot of questions on a campus tour (though my own personal rule is never to ask any question during a tour or information session that I can find the answer to on the school’s web site) and I never leave a campus until I feel like I understand the culture of the school and can go home and share the information with my students before they embark on their own campus visits.

(And before they set out on those visits, you can rest assured that we always talk about what questions they’re planning to ask when they’re on campus and how to find the truth of a school.)

It’s out there, you know.

(Want help coming up with those questions for your campus tour? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book.)

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