The Dean’s College Search Memoir continues…
So, after deciding I could go nowhere other than SMALL LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE, my parents and I grabbed lunch and rushed over to SMALL LIBERAL ARTS COLLEGE #2. It was pretty. They too had acres of land, lots of faculty, kids that liked to learn, study abroad… but I hated it. The man who did my information session was a super nice guy. But I didn’t feel anything. I just kept thinking “so…what?” In fact, during the campus tour I leaned over to my mom and said something like “um, I think I hate everyone. These are not my people.” (I was a bit capricious and dramatic and not super articulate at 17; forgive me).
This “hate” didn’t make sense: the two schools were nearly identical on paper, but my heart told me they were different. It wasn’t rational, but it was real.
ERDean’s Piece of Advice #3a: Keep in mind that sometimes schools will look the same or at least incredibly similar on paper (or in your case, on the internet)...but they are not. They will check all the same boxes: great programs, fantastic teachers, and lengthy lists of similar statistics, nearly identical student demographics, maybe even similar values, and a similar mission. FACT: According to Gallup, “the mission, purpose or vision statements of more than 50 higher education institutions share striking similarities, regardless of institution size, public or private status, land-grant status or religious affiliation, or for-profit or not-for-profit status.”
What’s one of the most popular ideas in college mission statements? Life-long learning. Now, don’t get me wrong; I am 100% in favor of life-long learning, a growth mindset, and living a life of the mind. But this idea has saturated the higher education marketplace and contributes to this blurring of schools. Combine these hard-to-distinguish mission statements with similar data points that you can read from afar, and it can be difficult to distinguish schools from one another. But I repeat: they are not the same. The character, the people, the vibe of a college or university, the way these mission statements are realized in the classroom and take shape across campus and in the community… that is what really makes the place. This is why visiting campuses and diving in to sources in and beyond the traditional admission material (blogs, students hosted snap-chats, events with alumni, sitting in a on class, eavesdropping in the campus center- seriously) are so important. They introduce the heart into what can be a very heady process.
And here’s a bonus… ERDean's Piece of Advice #3b: while I am telling you a story where the main character (me) had that “OMG this is it!” feeling while visiting a college campus, do not mistake that for a requirement in your college search. You may never have this wash of angels singing, especially on your first visit. You want to assess each place and check your gut, but don’t assume that you will have some over-the-top reaction to stepping foot on any particular campus. Especially if this is part of a lengthy college tour when you ate something sort of suspect at lunch and your little brother is annoying you and your dad won’t stop asking embarrassing questions… or if you’re not the kind of person that has big reactions. Knowing yourself is helpful in gauging your reactions.
Now go out and explore!
Up next: ERDean Applies to College