“OK, Adam, your last two blog posts have been fun, but if you don’t start talking about anything serious on these blogs we’re going to have to revoke your admission and send you packing for New Jersey.”
That’s what a very scary version of Tufts University President Anthony Monaco said to me in a frightening dream I had a few nights ago. (Note that he’s way too nice to ever say that to anybody. I trick-or-treated at his house on Halloween (while wearing the Tufts University Jumbo costume) and he gave me extra snickers because I said I liked them. You’re a good egg in my book, President Monaco.) Though the dream was obviously just a dream, I still have decided to heed the advice of my subconscious and write a little note to all the juniors out there about how to choose the right school. My advice is not only infallible but it is also very simple: listen to your gut.
Have you ever taken a multiple choice test and, upon seeing the question, instantly circled, say, answer B, but then upon thinking and excessive consideration, un-circled answer B to circle answer A? But, though your brain says A, your heart says B, and you decide, hey, what the heck, and you un-circle A to re-circle B and then you get the test back and B was indeed the correct answer and you feel like a million bucks? Visiting college can be a lot like that, I think.
While when it comes time to actually choose a school to spend four years at, some brain work might be a good choice, I really think that the best and only tried-and-true way to gauge whether you like a school is by listening only to your gut. I did this all the time when I was visiting schools, and it drove my mom crazy. Allow me to give you a glance into a little vignette of what I’m talking about:
Mom: “So, Adam, did you like the school we saw today?”
Adam: [expression of content or of dissatisfaction – which one it is actually doesn’t make much of a difference]
Mom: “Ok, do you have any idea why?”
Adam: “I’m not sure, that’s just how I felt.”
Mom: “You’re not going to give me any more than that?”
Adam: “I don’t know if there’s really any more to give.”
Mom: “Well why don’t you look in the book to see if there are any other schools that are similar to it numerically that we can add to our list of places to visit?”
Adam: “I just really don’t think that’s going to help me here.”
Mom: “You never talk to me. Mike [my father], he never talks to me. Are you listening to this? Make him say something.”
And the conversation continues. Keep in mind that I’m not trying to slander my mom here – I just think (actually, I know) that we think in vastly different ways and the numerical approach to colleges that would probably fit her best just didn’t work well with me. But on we’d go, attempting to discuss numbers and to quantify very un-quantifiable emotions, and, despite my mom’s frustration and perhaps inability to connect with me in this circumstance, I’d learn a lot about colleges.
My process for visiting schools was actually very simple: I’d go on tours and information sessions like the usual visitor, but after it was all done, I’d wander around campus by myself, and actually take in the school. That was where I did all of my learning and experiencing of colleges, I kid you not. Do note, though, that this activity seriously has to be done alone – walking around a campus with parents, while undoubtedly fun, isn’t an effective way to get to know the place. You’ll be distracted, you won’t be able to focus, and you’ll be too intent on what your parents think to consider what you actually think.
So, my advice to you is to go alone, seriously! Be silent and listen to conversations and look at people and at buildings and pretend to be a student. Get a grasp on how the campus makes you feel, and try to picture yourself as a student there. If all goes as planned, you won’t even have to think. You’ll just find that you’ve developed a feeling in your gut about the school, about the people, and about the culture, and your decision’s already made for you!
It’s fun, I promise, and it’s only challenging when you have to rationalize your feelings to your mom.