Visiting prospective colleges with your high schooler is a lot like a wacky version of speed dating. Your kid gives them a bunch of basic information (who they are, where they’re from, what they’re interested in studying) and the colleges try to dazzle your kid with how cool, attractive and smart they are (their long and resplendent history, their incomparable academic programs, their celebrated faculty, their distinguished alumni and state-of-the-art facilities). And after giving them the once-over, you’re off to the next admissions office, filling out the next registration form, gathering the next information packet and listening to the next rep give a spiel designed in hopes of enticing and tantalizing the best of the best.
As a mom and a former PR professional, I get off on seeing how an organization presents itself. Who’s doing the presentation? Are they articulate? Is there a PowerPoint? Are admissions packets available? What kind of room are we in? Is there a microphone? Do they repeat audience questions before answering? How thorough is the presentation? How politically correct are they? (We recently went to an info session where 150 pre-registered people were welcomed upon arrival and seated in the admissions office’s beautiful presentation space. At the designated time, the rep dashed in and announced that our group was being displaced by a “special group” and that we were being relegated to a crummy lecture hall elsewhere on campus. Didn’t really make me feel terribly special!)
Anywho. To me, the fewer interruptions by other (annoying) visitors, the better image I get of the school. I know. So judgey! And based on my pet peeves from our seven-month (so far!) college tour, I have created a list of 14 “tips” to follow when visiting prospective schools:
1. I have it on fairly good authority that the person at the reception desk does not, in fact, write down what you’re wearing when you check in for a general info session and campus tour. So that means you definitely don’t need to trot out that three-sizes-too-small blazer hanging in the back of your closet and feel like a gigantic tool. But for the rest of our sakes, you may wanna step it up a notch from the tight, slutty “Love Pink” zip hoodie with matching sweatpants stuffed into slouchy Uggs. If visiting a top national university doesn’t warrant real pants these days, I’m not sure what does.
2. You know that molecularly-specific question that has you “Oooh, ooh, Mr. Kotter”-ing in your seat at the general information sesh? The one that supposes a confluence of things wholly irrelevant not just to the people in the room, but likely to humankind at large? Yeah. Please do us all a favor and don’t ask it in a group setting. I have yet to attend a session or tour where the admissions rep or tour guide didn’t offer to speak individually at the end. And they practically beg you to take their business card so you can contact them privately with your pressing needle-in-a-haystack issues.
3. Far as I know, there’s no prize for stumping the tour guide. Please don’t make it your driving ambition to try.
4. Repeat after me: group tour. That’s right, people, we’ve all come to check out the same place at the same time for the same reason. What gives you the notion that it’s your exclusive right to monopolize the tour guide and hijack the tour to suit your own kid’s interests?
5. I get it. Sitting through info session after info session can get old really fast, and after a while every school starts to sound the same. But is it all that much more entertaining to sit behind me and click your pen incessantly for a full hour? Or repeatedly unsnap and resnap the adjustable band on your baseball cap? Or open and close your camera’s battery door? And lens cover? And SD card slot? In sequential rotation? Frankly, it’s like Chinese water torture for those of us sitting in your near midst. Please be wise enough to take the hint if I turn around and glare at you or your kid, or I’ll be mighty tempted to shove said pen, cap or camera up your nose at the end of the presentation. (And apparently my Facebook friends are already eagerly awaiting the video!)
6. Awkwardness alert: Kindly restrain yourself from asking stupid, embarrassing questions in a group setting. Your kid will want to die, and the rest of us will want to give you a group wedgie for making us feel slightly uncomfortable and wasting our collective time.
7. When the tour guide opens a door to a building, chances are there’s no rule requiring us all to line up single-file like kindergarten doobies to squeeze through. If there’s another door—or, say, a bank of six doors—shimmy over and give a pull. Nine times out of ten, it’ll be unlocked and we can all get inside more quickly.
8. Sure, sometimes you can’t hold back a big, fat ACHOOOO! But c’mon, have some hygienic courtesy, and sneeze into a tissue or the crook of your arm and not into thin air. I didn’t travel all this way to trail you on a tour and inhale your revolting airborne germage.
9. Let your kid ask the tour guide a few questions instead of you being the chief mouthpiece for your family. Otherwise we’re all going to assume that you’re the overbearing parent the tour guide is passive-aggressively describing who refuses to leave their child’s dorm room on move-in day.
10. Seriously? You’re that flabbergasted to run into someone from your high school on a college tour? During school vacation week? Of your junior year?
11. You will look like a presumptuous ass if you raise your hand in an information session and demand the rep provide reasons why he thinks their internationally renowned [fill in the blank] program is superior to programs at other prestigious schools. You should be so fortunate a year from now to have the luxury of deciding between such illustrious programs, honey.
12. FYI, when the admissions rep says that a particular part of the application is “recommended,” that’s code for “required.” Guaranteed.
13. Uhh, helllloooo, I’m just another parent on the tour. It must’ve been my invisible doorman’s uniform that gave you the idea that I was hired by the university to hold the door open for all 43 of you. Here’s a thought: perhaps you could wave me in front of you and grab the door—or even just be gracious enough to give a nod of thanks as you pass through.
14. As a former backwards-walking college tour guide myself, I implore you on behalf of all college tour guides everywhere: Please let the guide know if she’s about to walk into a wall. Or a lamp post. Or a flag pole. Or fall into a crevasse. Or down a flight of stairs. Or trip over a fellow student. Or a bike rack. Or a trash can. Sincere thanks for your cooperation!
So did I forget any of your pet peeves? Let me know in the comments below. And good luck with the college search. Trust me, it all pretty much works out in the end, no matter how stressful and anxious the process may be in the meantime.