And it is April. High school seniors know the result of their hard work of last several years and are wanting to test waters. Spring break is utilized for this purpose by most to visit colleges to aid in making that very important decision. Will it be a good fit? Good education, safe environment, access to good medical facility, healthy competition, great friendships, ample opportunities, variety of sports, internship possibilities, job prospects, campus interviews, dining hall and of course cost are just some of the factors that the student and parents look into deeply at this time of the year having done the preliminary round of the same prior to and at the time of application. I am told that there was a time when students applied to fewer colleges as compared to students today and rarely indulged in campus tours until the day they reached as freshmen, lock stock and barrel.
The scenario is very different now. The student is not just competing with the fellow classmates but with the whole wide world. The race is tougher with students from known and unknown, big cities to small villages staking everything to dream bigger and better. Be it Mexico or Morocco, Saudi Arabia or Singapore, Iceland or India, Cambodia or China, students flock from everywhere with aspirations in their heart and spring in their step to begin the fall semester.
Tour companies have been in existence for years now, organizing holidays with attractions like white sand beach, snow capped mountains, skiing slopes, green meadows, historical appeal, adventure tourism and similar visual extravaganza. They evolved over a period of time and added spiritualism with self discovery tourism, yoga by the Himalayas, Monastery tourism, spa vacation and so on. Now the diversification has reached new heights with a new line of tourism added – college tourism which has huge following year after year at the same time every year. Now travel to Europe has a little add on like discover UK universities. Traveling to the East coast? For a few thousand dollars include tour to engineering colleges or liberal art colleges or the dream college of your child. The latest issue of The Economist has a story titled ‘The long march from China to the Ivies’ which explores the fact that students are groomed, tutored and tested from the age of 9 to 15 to get into the Big Eight. The bigger, wider and deeper the pockets are the more there is to tour, see, evaluate, tutor, mentor, prepare and apply.
We indulged in college visits too, and vouch by the ability of that student guided tour to give inklings to life on that campus providing a pathway in decision making to figure out the best fit with respect to feel of campus, dorm, dining, students, surroundings etc. I delighted in the similarities amidst the vast differences between the few campuses we visited that had nothing directly to do with the university itself but everything indirectly. Each of our student guides, male or female, facing us while walking backwards confidently as if they had eyes behind their heads talked of their college and campus life with much love. That love, enthusiasm, excitement and gratitude evident for their college were the remarkable similarities between all the tours. The most impressive features were not the grand buildings or the beautiful sprawling grounds or even the well equipped classrooms but the confidence, knowledge and attitude of the student tour guides for which each of the colleges were responsible.
The daughter giggled as she read my draft about college tourism and thought that mom was very naive. Her take was that it is all a big marketing scheme which fools some while others gain important perspectives. I wondered if she too had turned into the cynical college student while I continue to look at the world with rose tinted glasses. But my concerns were wiped away by one phone call as I drove the son and hubby. The car speakers carried her voice loud and clear- ‘Hey mommy, what was the one thing I wished I had brought with me to college?’ and three of us answered together ‘your little red pillow!’
Yes, she was giving a tour to prospective students with parents and answering their endless queries including the above, happy and content where she was….just as they all become over a period of time. Parents, give them time and….rest assured!