It’s that time of year again. Bright-eyed, accepted children wander through our campus — whether willingly or dragged by their bargain-shopping parents — following a backward-walking navigator. They will decide if this is the place to host the “time of their lives.” Princeton rejectees and barely made-its alike will make an incredibly important decision, heavily based on aesthetic presentation. Oh, sure, we’re supposedly Ivy League on a budget, the T.J. Maxx of higher education. Our students are allegedly among the happiest. But our campus is pretty. It is. And judging by the pervasive dependency on physical appearance in society, the exterior of a college campus likely plays a part in college selection.
But is beauty only skin deep?
I won’t lament the details excluded from the introductory campus tours — mediocre food, ubiquitous student apathy, surplus of stupidity, etc. — but I fear for the high school seniors influenced by the “package” presented by the College and all other colleges for that matter. These institutions advertise, and 18 year olds are expected to make life-altering decisions. After financial and performance aspects eliminate certain options from a prospective students’ possible schools, what is left to determine which school will serve he or she best? Is the experience supposed to be akin to the finding your wizarding wand? Does the school choose you?
A recent article appearing in The New Yorker, “The Order of Things,” by Malcolm Gladwell, compares the ranking of colleges by semi-respected sources, such as U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Colleges,” to car reviews, in their lack of depth and sagacity. How is anyone to make a prudent decision, when perceptions of colleges and universities are so shallow?
The College didn’t inspire the shimmering, windblown visit to Ollivander’s in me. My freshman year, I fought the urge to run up to groups of potential future students and scream, “Don’t do it! Get out while you can!” I’ve since made my peace with the College. Though in a slightly less mad-woman manner, I still feel the need to warn future generations: Don’t make my mistakes. I was guilty of frequenting web pages detailing school ranking. When the deadline for decision approached, my verdict came down to which school seemed more prestigious, appeared academically driven and didn’t give me cult-tingles (sorry Rider, but that whole “touch the Rider rock” thing fiercely freaked me out). I didn’t consider the decision as thoroughly as I should have.
Whether it was my defeatist attitude or my unrealistic expectations of college, I found myself disappointed with what was supposed to be the “time of my life.” I thought I’d learn everything at college. Everything. In my spare time, I’d discuss literature with my classmates and engage in philosophical debates with strangers. The College isn’t really that kind of place.
Then again, even if I’d spent years researching schools, I doubt that I could’ve obtained an accurate idea of what being a student at any school actually meant. The tools provided to potential students are grossly limited. Anyone can look good on the Internet, then turn out to be a 35-year-old man who lives with his mom. Separating fallacy from fact is almost impossible, especially when the school appears physically true to their claims. Talking to current students (non-employed students who walk normal), I’m sure, helps. Then again, talking to a student like me, circa two semesters ago, probably wouldn’t have produced a positive testimony for the College. I suppose everyone goes into the process somewhat blind. How anyone sifts through the propaganda and finds a “perfect fit” is beyond me. Perhaps I just have a problem with commitment.