The Fly By

I’m gearing up for my annual January trip to the College Preparatory Invitational Horse Show this week; I’ll fly out Wednesday so I can squeeze in a campus tour in the Florida sunshine before the show starts on Friday and everything is all set for the journey – my flights and hotels are booked, my rental car secured, and I’ve been in contact with the campus visit coordinator at the campus I’ll see to make sure they’re able to accommodate me.

In short: I’m as committed as I possibly can be, not only to the trip, but the campus visit itself (which is an important and vital part of the work I do to help my students in the college search). And by committed, I mean that I plan to fully immerse myself in the visit, soaking up as much information about the school and its culture as I can. After all, if they’re willing to make the  time to provide me with insights into who they are so I can share it with my students, I owe it to both client families and the school to be fully present.

With the amount of time and energy I put into my campus visits (having already been to college twice and with no intentions ever to live in a dorm again), you can imagine how surprised I am every time I encounter a family who schedules campus visits in fly-by fashion.

Of course I don’t mean they just drive through a campus and look at the buildings (though that happens in some cases) or even that they limit themselves to just a walking tour and admissions information session (which can be all that’s needed for a great first visit). Instead, I’m talking about families who get so wound up in the competition of how many visits they can cram into a day/week that they forget the purpose of the exercise. The schedule itself takes precedence over everything else – so instead of immersing themselves at Campus A and getting a real sense of what’s offered there before proceeding to Campus B to repeat the exercise, they emphasize how quickly Campus A can be seen before the mad dash to Campus B – and then to Campus C and so on. Rather than true exploratory experience, the tours instead become notches on a belt of “Campus Tour Accomplishment,” sacrificing the chance to breathe in the life of a campus, to glean as much information from a tour guide, from faculty and staff, and even from a campus coffee shop or dining hall in order to say that nineteen campus visits were accomplished in four days.

Quantity, not quality, becomes the name of the game.

I’m not saying I don’t get it. I do (to a degree). People are busy and the lives of parents and students are over-scheduled, so the idea of taking the amount of time required to truly get to know a school during a campus visit is not only sometimes destined to remain just that – an idea – but it’s forced to stay there by the sheer weight of a family’s other commitments. After all, it’s actually my job as an educational consultant to visit campuses – it’s built into my work schedule – so comparing the way that I visit campuses to the way families do isn’t necessarily fair, is it?

Probably not – but here’s the thing:

The families who make the choice to prioritize quantity over quality in their campus visits (in particular, I refer here to equestrian families for the sake of the analogy) are the very same people who wouldn’t dream of purchasing a horse without an exhaustive and thorough pre-purchase exam. (Or two!) They wouldn’t dare write a check for purchase without a full set of very clean x-rays, a round of comprehensive flexion tests, and a full professional read through of all of the horse’s most intimate veterinary records.

And the last time I checked, the majority of families are purchasing horses that cost half of what a college education runs over the course of four (or five) years.

What’s more, while horses certainly influence and change our lives, so does a college education.

I’m looking forward to my campus visit this week – every chance I have to familiarize myself with a new school is a welcome one – and hope that if you’re signing up for your own campus visits in the next few months, you’ll invest the time to do them right and immerse yourself in the experience. Vet your potential campuses the way you would vet a pricey horse – and have fun getting to know the schools you might call home for the next four years. Take the time – especially if you’re lucky enough to tour campuses in warm and sunny weather. (Take it from a Midwesterner – it’s worth soaking up those rays!)

(Need help figuring out which campuses to visit? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to help guide your search.)

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