*Originally Posted on October 7th, 2011
As I type, 13 Tufts admission officers are somewhere in the world, visiting high schools. I just finished my own four-day swing though 16 high schools in southwestern Connecticut (also known as Fairfield County) before I head out again next week for a quick trip to DC. “What do you do when you visit a school?” my mother wondered the other night, and her curiosity prompted this quasi-live action account of one of my days on the road earlier this week.
6:50A: Travel jitters: I’m up before my alarm rings. The coffee from the pot in the hotel bathroom isn’t bad…
7:47A: I have five visits scheduled in three different towns. I’ll probably miss lunch so I make a quick visit to the “bistro” in the hotel lobby for some breakfast (which I don’t normally eat, much to my aforementioned mother’s lament). When I’m away from home my diet hits the skids (a bag of Doritos often suffices as lunch) so I choose the menu’s ”healthy option” (egg white, spinach, Canadian bacon and havarti on a whole wheat muffin) as a preemptive strike against a week of (bad) eating on the road. It’s tasty!
8:15A: I leave the hotel for a 6-mile drive to my first visit. My rented Ford Explorer (it’s much too big…) is one of many suburban SUVs gliding along I-95 on a Monday morning. I feel like a soccer pop, minus the soccer ball and a kid in the backseat.
8:30A: Uh oh, it’s my first moment of directional worry. I glance repeatedly at the map app on my iPhone: “Did I miss the 2nd left?!” Suburban SUVs roar by me as I study the map and then study the landscape for clues to my whereabouts. Phew, I didn’t miss the turn.
8:36A: I arrive at School #1 with 24 minutes to spare. As always, parking is tough at this large suburban high school and there are no open spots in the visitor parking spaces. Cars are parked everywhere, so I park on the side of the driveway and leave a Tufts brochure on the windshield as a tacit plea to any security guard who investigates. (I’m not sure any guard would even understand that the brochure on the windshield means the SUV belongs to a college visitor but I try it anyway. I’ve never received a ticket when I’ve used this “permission slip” in the past so why not give it another try?)
9A: I appear at the designated check-in table in the main lobby and greet the sleepy-looking teacher who’s manning the table. “Good morning,” I say. “So far,” he replies. The teacher as security checkpoint inspects my driver’s license, checks the day’s college visit list, hands me a hall pass (just like I’m in high school again) and points me towards the Career Center.
9:04A: A perky parent volunteer (a stark contrast to the teacher at the inspection table…) steers me toward a table and quizzes me about our admissions stats. Then she moves us to a bigger table when 12 seniors appear and there’s not enough room for everyone. It’s a Monday morning and no one is very verbal. As part of my intro about the need to acquire a flexible skill set during college, I ask the seniors when they will retire: everyone crinkles their brows as they do the quick math. Someone groans: “No one told us we had to do math at this meeting!” (The answer is 2059.) Everyone has been on campus so I offer a quick update, outline Tufts’ general education requirements, explain how AP credits work, and answer a question about study abroad. The volunteer jumps in and asks whether Tufts offers merit scholarships (the answer is no, but it’s one of the questions on her assigned list and she is scribbling in the blanks as fast as she can) but a guidance counselor interupts her: “Let the students ask their questions first,” he tells her. She puts down her pen. I scan the kids’ faces as I channel the teacher in Ferris Bueller. “Anyone? Anyone?” Someone asks about pre-med advising, another wants to know if the optional essay on our application supplement is really optional. (It is.) The bell rings and everyone rises. “We have a calculus quiz,” a girl apologizes as she shrugs into an XL backpack that makes her bow forward. “Go!” I reassure her. “Calc is more important than me.”
9:45A: The parent volunteer hands me a goodie bag and I peer inside it like Charlie Brown in the Peanuts’Halloween special: no rock! I receive a bottle of water, some candy, a pen, and a bag of Doritos. Lunch has been served!
10A: It’s a quick trip to my second visit, and I discover a new entrance to an all-boys school I have visited many times. The guidance secretary meets me in the foyer and escorts me to the cafeteria, where workers are dumping buckets of ice into the salad bar. It’s a noisy, chaotic spot for a school visit but this is where they put me, so this is where I’ll camp out. Six clean cut guys, all decked out in rep ties and blue blazers like The Warblers from Glee, approach my table. They each shake my hand and take a seat. Someone calls me sir… ”Anyone have any questions about Tufts?” I ask. No one does. I tell them I’m the admission officer who reads applications from Fairfield County, and their eyes grow wide with that news, but still no questions. I ask about their academic interests: economics, English, maybe engineering they tell me, so I offer a mini-version of my on-campus info session and highlight those disciplines. They listen politely. Then the college counselor bounds over to the table and tells the boys that the senior class meeting will start in five minutes. This was a quick visit. The group flees but one lags behind: he’s applying ED and wanted to say hello privately.
10:36A: Off to School #3, a large public high school in an urban/suburban city. I hear ”Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster the People for the 1st time today.
10:56A: I’m a few minutes early so I squeeze in a bathroom break, only to get lost in the labyrinth of windowless hallways as I look for it. I’m rescued by a burly gym teacher who points me in the right direction. (There aren’t many teachers in suits–he’s in a sweatsuit–so I guess I looked suspicious.)
11A: A dozen students arrive and a lively discussion erupts. It’s a treat when the chemistry works and a school visit becomes a conversation rather than a lecture. I pass out my visit piece–a scenic poster with a “wallpaper of words” on the reverse side that describes each of our 50+ majors–and the kids gasp as they flip it over. “Oh, wow,” one girl grins. “This is cool.” They start circling majors and underlining things. The group has a wide array of academic interests–two chemical engineering candidates and an aspiring drama major lead the way–and they ask thoughtful questions in rapid succession as pens scribble notes on the back of the poster. They seem hungry for info. It’s a rewarding visit.
11:58A: My visit runs longer than I expected. I jog to my rental car (I feel like I’m driving a school bus) and my iPhone tells me the trek takes 15 minutes! No room for error. “Pumped Up Kicks” is on the radio again, and I sing along. Now the song is in my head. (“All the other kids in their pumped up kicks…”)
12:14P: I follow a slow-moving (20 mph in a 35 mph zone) Snapple delivery truck for 2.3 miles (yes, I counted) and I arrive at School #4 with a minute to spare (so close!). But I enter the campus via the wrong driveway because the new arts center disoriented my sense of the place. So this will be my first “late” arrival (by a few minutes) and I unitentionally sprint past the student greeter who is waiting for me… I hate being late.
12:18P: Five juniors and five seniors (minus the greeter…) are waiting for me around a conference table in the college counseling office. They are a friendly gang and they smile widely as I take my seat and start to talk. Psych, women’s studies, biomedical engineering, English and poly sci are their academic interests. A junior announces his plans to double major in international relations and chemistry. “Are you sure?” I ask him? He nods assertively. “How do you know?” I prod. He says, “I love them both.” I explain that it’s a killer combo, doable but at the expense of some elective work since nothing in either major will count toward the other half of his academic plan. “I know,” he confirms. ”I’m ready.” The girl with the interest in women’s studies asks me an excellent question about diversity, and my answer makes her smile.
1:05P: Back in the Explorer for my last visit. It’s a 30-minute drive to School #5, an independent school in a heavily wooded area, and I zig and zag along winding country roads to get there as my cell connectivity fades in and out. There’s a detour due to some road work–the GPS app doesn’t account for that–but I backtrack and figure out a new route. “Pumped Up Kicks” plays again but, as I sing along, I notice the unexpectedly dark lyrics hiding behind the cheery melody. I stop singing. (I thought it was a song about sneakers…)
2P: Another awesome visit commences. I chat with a cellist who tells me he’s been playing for 14 years. “You started when you were three?” I ask him. That’s correct, he says. I wonder how a three-year old can handle a cello, and I learn that there are child-sized cellos. Who knew?! But that begs another question: how small can a cello be before it becomes a violin?
3:40P: I arrive at my hotel, a different one than the previous night. In five nights on the road I’ll sleep in five different beds. I check-in, dump my rolling suitcase in my room, recharge my assorted electronic equipment, and go looking for lunch (or maybe it’s “lupper”, a brunch-like combo of lunch and supper?). I have a couple of hours to regroup before an evening program at the hotel; 200 people are scheduled to attend so I need to perk up. A day of visits involves a lot of talking; travel always underscores my appreciation for what teachers do every day. It’s hard to say the same things over and over and make each time seem “fresh.”
4:45P: I discover that the newly-developed iPad registration system for tonight’s program isn’t working. I send an urgent email to IT and the problem is resolved. (He was updating the file when I opened it.)
6P: My colleague Ben joins me for the program (he was doing his own visits in New York today) and we start setting up the small ballroom. A mother (sans son) arrives an hour early, and she chats with us while we set up the registration table. I met her son earlier today, and she marvels at his new beard. (He’s in a Shakespearean play.)
6:20P: The alumni admissions co-chair for Fairfield County arrives and helps man the registration table. A student from one of my morning visits approaches me: we chat about his impressions of Tufts and he asks a couple of follow-up questions from my time at his school. He’s a friendly kid, very earnest and likeable, and he’s exceptionally poised with adults. I make a note of it.
6:45P: The crowd grows. I shake hands, say hello to parents, answer some questions. My sister’s niece’s boss’s daughter (follow that?) introduces herself.
7:06P: Our admissions workshop begins and Power Point leads the way for the next two hours. The crowd is engaged and, best of all, the students in the audience are the ones who ask all the questions and who make most of the observations about the case studies we present. I compliment the students on their insights and the parents for their restraint.
9:09P: The last visitor departs. Ben and I clean up, pack our boxes, and grab some dinner. We both crave beef.
11:11P: Lights out.
7:58A: Off I go again…