College visits weren’t a thing when I was a junior in high school. If they were, I didn’t know about them. Basically, the way most of my friends selected a college was by knowing people who went there and they liked what they heard. I remember our valedictorian going to Brown, but he was beyond me on so many levels that I never gave much thought as to how he actually chose to go to school there. Neither of my parents went to college so they didn’t have a dog in the fight.
“Go somewhere we can afford,” was basically the rule of thumb. And that is what I did.
All that has changed now.
Colleges, big and small, have developed an entire experience around showing high school students their campuses. They select student ambassadors, usually high energy extroverts, to narrate the tours (college students must be active in a minimum of 13 campus organizations to apply for such a position!) Many universities have built large auditoriums for the purpose of facilitating weekly information sessions. At the session, they “demystify” the entrance requirements and the financial obligations. By bus or on foot, these upbeat student ambassadors guide would-be students across their campuses revealing the latest state-of-the-art dining facilities, classrooms, fitness centers and dorms. Eager 17-year-olds and their parents, coached by these gleeful guides, gladly recite war chants or school mottoes as the tour unfolds. If you are lucky enough, you’ll get a history lesson as the guide parades your group past major campus landmarks.
All of this was experienced last Friday when I took my high school junior on a visit to the University of Georgia.
Both of his parents attended this school, so there is a dawg in the fight. Yet, as a passive observer, I absolutely enjoyed the spectacle of this new right-of- passage: The Fall College Visit.
The tour began with a stadium style experience at the new Visitor Center. As is often the case, these visitor centers are quite large to hold the throngs of willing, young guests and their parents. A day before the SEC match-up between UGA and Texas A & M, there were dozens of folk attending the tour from Texas and the Midwest. I saw a cowboy hat in the crowd. During the session, the speaker gave an overview of the college’s history and philosophies. “Because we are an R1 school, every student is required to participate in research at the undergraduate level,” she said. Glowing photographs of students involved in research at home and abroad were shown along with stats on enrollment and entrance requirements. I noticed most parents glanced up from their phones when the speaker mentioned costs for out–of–state students and median SAT scores.
After the info session ended, we boarded a large bus and started the tour. Our red-headed guide took us to the historic North Campus, to the bell tower, past the vet school and of course, to the Sanford Stadium for photographs. We learned what it means to be a land grant university, about UGA’s major programs and about the traditions of the bell tower, the arches and the fountain. Our guide offered a quick pull on the bell rope to a couple of willing volunteers. Next we walked past the law school where his dad attended 28 years ago. Then, on to the student union and stadium.
Somehow, by the end of the second hour, this group caught the UGA spirit and did a collective “Go Dawgs” chant before pulling back into the Visitors Center.
“You guys aren’t wearing enough UGA gear! It’s time to visit the bookstore so they can set you up on a nice sweatshirt,” our guide directed, pointing a finger in the direction of center campus. Thankfully we avoided that directive and made our way to another tour held at the Engineering School.
My favorite part of the day was just people watching, seeing the beautiful fall leaves and spending time with my boy. The weather and beautiful fall leaves were a bonus.
“I guess I’d better think differently about high school,” my boy said as we drove out of town.
“That’s a good idea,” I said, smiling. The Fall College Visit has hopefully made its impression.