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The Other Side of College Campus Tour 2

The Other Side of College Campus Tour 2

By James H. Choi
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Continued from: The Other Side of College Campus Tour 1

https://dl.dropbox.com/u/6378458/Column/Graphics/campustour.jpg5. Students pick what college they want to go to based on what they hear about the school — before ever seeing it. 

From what I’ve seen, most students know what college they want to attend not because they visited or saw it, but because of the college’s reputation and the word of mouth from those around them. In other words, if a high-reputation and respected college accepts a student, he or she wouldn’t care if the dorm looked like a dump. That student would go. That student would be grateful that to be able to go.

6. Campus tour to choose the right college?  Will you have a choice?

The premise of taking many college campus tours is that your student will get to choose the one at which he or she would like to study. The key word here is “choice” — but will your student have a choice?

For most students, they would be lucky if they got accepted by one dream college; it is highly unlikely that any one student would be accepted by two dream colleges and have to make a “choice.”  Of course, such cases exist. I advised one student who had to choose between — get this — Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford.  But he/she was a rare case.  Most students will gratefully study at the campus of the best school that accepted them.  Even if they get to choose, it will be most likely among the college they never toured.

7. Information sessions are positively unhelpful.

Perhaps the most important part of the campus tour is supposed to be the information session. Every guided campus tour has an information session, which is a forum where admissions officers and sometimes current undergraduates talk to visitors and answer your and your student’s questions.  This is also the part most students least look forward to. Most wouldn’t mind skipping the information session altogether to get to that gift shop faster.  On every tour, I had a student whispering to me “Can we skip the information session and go to the gift shop instead?”

But the talk itself is a sight to behold: Even competitive colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton talk during these sessions as if they are trying to sell themselves.  For instance, Harvard’s information session devotes about half the time to current Harvard students who explain their campus life, how great it is, what kind of activities they enjoy.  Details about Harvard’s club activities, sports, and all these other plain things leave students believing Harvard is a wonderful vacation spot!  You can easily miss the acknowledgement that the academics are competitive, which is mentioned only in passing.

How pointless!  All students I’ve ever taken to the Harvard information sessions would choose Harvard even if its campus were like a prison!  Despite this well known fact, the information session dedicates so much on promoting Harvard as if they the speaker was facing an skeptical or downright hostile audience.  Interestingly, there is hardly any mention on what it takes to be accepted to Harvard.  Those who entered the information session seeking specific information on the admissions requirements always leave empty handed.


8. Information-session speakers relentlessly positive, even when they shouldn’t.

Here’s a question that gets asked all the time at information sessions:

Student: “Can I apply without knowing my specific major?”

Admissions officer: “Sure! College is all about finding yourself, experimenting, and realizing what your potential is.”

The above might be the single-most asked question in all information sessions and illustrates the large number of students who are unsure what they want to study in college. Many go simply because this is their time to go. Our society’s clock is pushing them into college, not because they want to go or are ready to go.  Nonetheless, every college’s answer to the above question is a resounding, “Sure!”

Harvard released statistics regarding how many students are admitted under an “undecided major.”  For the class of 2016 admissions, that number is 0.7 percent.  That’s right, less than a percent.  However, a much larger percentage applies as “undecided,” I was told unofficially.  Applying and accepted as an undecided major is likely to lower your chances drastically.  I asked about this to a Harvard admissions officer, and her reply was: “Undecided major is a someone who will excel at any major.”  In other words, “undecided”  is not for those who are not sure what they are good at.  It is for those who are too good in too many fields.  You would not have noticed from that cheerful “yes” reply.

No matter what outlandish questions you ask, the admissions officer’s response is usually positive and ends in “you should apply.”  You need to recognize that the main point of the college information sessions is to get your student to apply.  The more of them apply, the lower the admissions rate.  The lower the admissions rate, the higher the ranking.  If you ever walked out of an information session full of hope, then you know the information session was a success.

Continued: The Other Side of College Campus Tour 3


Categories: College Campus Tour

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