John Rosemond’s “Parenting” advice column discouraging students and families from making college visitations, which ran in The News & Observer on Jan. 9, is an extraordinary example of ignorance (I mean that in the dictionary definition sense) masquerading as expertise.
Rosemond readily admits that neither his wife nor he visited college campuses before making a decision and showing up for move-in and that they did not take their children to visit campuses before making their decisions. They all made their decisions based on college brochures.
Mercy. It doesn’t take very much time to marvel at the slick marketing wonders that colleges and universities produce to attract attention these days, but the best way to know whether a college or university is an authentically good institution (and good value) is not brochures. Or websites. Or college rankings. Or an aunt’s best friend’s cousin’s recommendation.
There’s nothing like the tangible experience of being on a college campus (not just taking a virtual tour), talking to current students as they walk by (not just hearing from those selected by marketing as the prototypical/ideal student), and sitting in on a real class with an actual faculty member teaching an actual lecture (rather than a YouTube-ish TED Talk kind of performance). The campus visit is the best way to gauge authenticity of quality and whether a college feels like a good fit, meaning it feels like a great place to learn, a wonderful source of new friendships and experiences, and for residential students, a “second home.”
In that sense, college visitations are helpful in the same way that actually seeing a house for sale is also helpful. I am just speculating here, but I doubt Rosemond and his wife bought a house based on brochures (or websites). For most of us, those sources are great ways to identify the qualities we want in a house and whether there is enough interest for us to make a visit. But we would hardly buy the house without walking through it, seeing if it stands up to the pictures online, seeing the neighborhood and how well it is cared for, and more.
Rosemond also claims the campus visits are “costly.” For whom? I do not know of a single college that charges students for campus visits, although some may charge for a meal. At any rate, college visitations are hardly a money maker. Indeed, other than transportation to get to the college (and with most college students staying closer and closer to home these days, even that cost is diminishing), the only cost is what the college puts out to ensure students have a quality visit.
Yes, part of admissions counselors’ salaries covers their time to meet with students; work study students are often the campus tour guides. And, for many visitors, a meal is even part of the tour so students know the quality of dining options. These are hardly extraordinary costs, especially as they help to ensure students are making the best-informed decisions they can make about one of the most important decisions they have ever made – or will make. And to take money entirely out of the equation, high school counselors universally agree that campus visits are critical to making good decisions about college.
For some institutions, the campus visit is so important because students tend to be overwhelmed by where their peers are choosing to go and by name recognition (as often created by winning basketball teams as by quality faculty and academic experiences). For Meredith College, in fact, of the students who visit our campus (many insisting they are not interested in a women’s college), as many as 85 percent decide to apply. Our marketing/branding campaign aside (and, yes, it is stellar), the real enticement to visiting Meredith is getting to meet our exceptional faculty and staff, to sit in on a class, to have lunch in the dining hall and talk to real students face-to-face about their experiences and opportunities here, and to learn more about the extraordinary lives and careers our alumnae have built.
The college experience – sight unseen? Let the buyer beware.
Jo Allen is the president of Meredith College.