College Visits (Part Two)
In the last post I talked about college in regards to going with your own gut feeling and finding a school where the environment around you is most beneficial to your needs. One of the ways that we find the feeling of “this is it” is by going to the school and explicitly experiencing the setting that you may find yourself in.
This is why we do college visits.
Now, although I applied to a number of schools and got accepted to almost all of them, I went on college visits to two, and the experiences I had at each one were night and day.
My first college visit took place at CU Boulder and, right off the bat, the first thing I noticed were people, lots of them. The full breadth of the conference room we were in was filled with people and some had to stand as the lack of chairs in the area was an obvious issue. The speakers spoke out to the room in general and talked of the schools stellar credentials and impressive track record as they extensively outlined why you should pick CU Boulder. As the speakers ended their speeches and the room was dispersed to their respective group leaders based on your section, the school tour was commenced.
It’s true, I was impressed by the large campus and their obviously impressive budget, but the school felt so big and so impersonal to me. Though perhaps it’s growing up in a small town that made me feel dwarfed by the wealth and status of the school, it was slightly unnerving for me to realize that the size of the school seemed to be their main selling point. The visit appeared to shout from the rooftops, ”Come to our school because we are rich and famous!”
My pervading emotion on this visit was as a small cog in a much larger machine or another blip on the college’s budget. In fact, it felt like I really wasn’t important at all as if the college could care less that I went to their school because they had so many other students to care about already.
As the tour continued, we saw the gym and the pool and the track and the stadium and got the whole breadth of possible extracurricular activities and school amenities. They had an impressive lunch room with a plethora of possible dining options stemming from a variety of different cultures around the world. The lunch room itself was an explosion of flavor and complexity.
I left feeling overwhelmed. It felt more as if I visited an autonomous city than a state college.
I was definitely impressed, however I felt no spark. Although I loved the idea of going to and experiencing a college with so much to offer and so much to possibly do, it felt like it was too much, and I wondered if I wouldn’t wear out from the seemingly high octane life of a CU Boulder student.
My second college visit was an added four hours away tucked into a quaint mountain town in Gunnison, Colorado. Western State University is a liberal arts college that attained university status a few years ago although it flies fairly low under the radar of college options. Small and humble, nothing about the school screams “success!” yet what happens inside the walls is so much more powerful than what is on the surface.
First of all, the drive up to the school was inspiring in and of itself. Mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers, and prairies all are experienced in the beautiful wild country of Colorado. The air was clean and the noise did not eject off buildings and cars driving by but wild pine trees that towered up into the sky. It felt more like taking a drive into the woods than to a university, and I loved it.
Upon arriving to the school, we parked in the main front parking lot and took a moment to look at the giant W sitting on a nearby mountain owned by the university. This mountain sat across from the university and it looked as if to mirror the school in saying, “I am proud and humble.”
The drive and the parking lot created an explicit relationship from the beginning. I was not another blip on the radar but a living component of the environment around me.
As my family and I turned from the mountain towards the school, we walked through the small campus and into the indoor track room where the event started. On the main floor of the track were tables set up with signs that showed which table corresponded to which major you are interested in.
Here’s the thing: At each table stood the professor themselves ready to shake your hand and welcome you to the school.
No longer was I another college student in the sea of students. I wasn’t a statistic or a price tag or another customer, but I was an important and salient piece of the world. Just this experience made me feel purposeful. I managed to laugh and smile and relax among people who are just as unsure about their college decisions as I was.
Another kicker; the professors didn’t talk about or constantly boast about how amazing the school was. Instead they talked about their own experiences and asked you about your life and your plans and your interests. Instead of talking to a room of people, they talked to you. A day spent here and I already felt a connection to the school. I felt a relationship forming.
With that I felt the spark. I felt myself working with my professor because I had already looked them in the eye. I felt myself studying in the dorm rooms looking out at the mountains around me.
What I found on these two separate college visits were a school and a home.
See, I think we get so caught up in fame and money and status that we forget that the education we get relies as much on us as the school we go to. The questions of “will I succeed here,” and “is this the right environment,” and “who do I want to be,” get put on the side burner to “how well known is the school?”
When looking for schools to go to, don’t listen, feel. Every school wants you and will offer the best of themselves but how well you receive that information will be unique to you.
I say, go with your gut.