We are back from Hugh’s Grand College Tour, Stage One. 

During Spring Break, we pointed the car south and visited schools in Virginia and Maryland.  Having signed up for info sessions and gone on forced marches around 7 different colleges (each tour lasting an average of 90 minutes) we picked up some pointers, which I will now share with you.

1.  Do not wear flip-flops.  You’ll be in a huge pack of people, and someone (inevitably male) is going to clumsily step on the back of your flop.

2.  Do not sport merchandise from the school you are currently visiting.  “It looks desperate,” muttered Hugh.  “Or cocky,” said one of his friends, who had returned from a New England college swing.  And as we all agreed, it’s not going to help you get into that college.  Unless I’m mistaken, the tour guide is not going to go rushing over to the admissions office after you leave, shouting “Make a note of the blonde kid who was just on my tour!  Definitely admit him when his application comes in – he and his parents just spent $110 in our bookstore and he’s already WEARING OUR SCHOOL LOGO!”  Conversely, do not wear anything touting ANOTHER school.  That’s basically saying, “I really want to go to the college on my shirt, and you are my safety school.”

3.  Be aware that if you are at the front of the tour pack and you open a door to a building, you will be the doorman for everyone behind you.  Think of a clever line to say in response to the muttered “thank yous” that you will hear, mostly from the parents, such as “Haha, it’ll be your turn next!”  This door-holding will put you in the back of the pack, which means you won’t hear what the guide is saying – but if you’re like me and you’re out in the hallway, you will be able to hear what some of the actual college students are saying.  Example – undergrad boy to undergrad girl:  “So yeah…finals are coming up and I figure this is my last chance to get really drunk.”  Girl:  “True.”  Boy:  “What did you say your name was again?”

4.  Try not to ask stupid questions, i.e. “Is there much drinking or drug use on this campus?”  Don’t be the dweeb who does that.  A.  You’re not going to get an honest answer, and B:  Cast your mind back to your own college days, and C:  See 3.

5.  Be prepared to visit “mock” dorm rooms.  Some schools have clearly gotten sick of trying to find relatively tidy, unoccupied, unlocked, and un-beer-can-filled rooms to showcase on their tours and have just given up.  Instead, they have turned one valuable room into a stage-set that is always camera-ready.  The fake rooms are immediately obvious from their sterility and from the prominent stickers on the closet doors touting “Bed Bath and Beyond Has All Your College Dorm Needs Covered!”  Product placement is everywhere.

5A.  Also, junk food has infiltrated colleges in a huge way.  Many of the schools we saw were very proud of their Chick-Fil-A, Au Bon Pain, McDonald’s, Arby’s, Pizza Huts, and other fast fooderies at which the students can use their meal plan credits.  Yes, our halls of learning  are now malls of learning, complete with food courts.  Chris and I were appalled, but we we did not embarrass Hugh by shouting “Objection!” when the tour guide raved about this fabulous new wrinkle in higher education.  Although as Chris rightly pointed out later, “The college administrators are the grown-ups here, and they should not be adding junk food – which is easily obtained just by going off campus – to the dining halls.  Hasn’t anyone seen SuperSize Me?”

6.  You will be staring at feet during the tour.  Mostly the feet of your guide, who is likely to walk backwards the entire time, projecting her voice directly at her flock.  As a parent, you will feel nervous and protective of this kind young person, who is headed directly for a broken-up section of sidewalk.  Miraculously, she will not fall. 

7.  Staring at feet will lead you to realize that college girls have expanded their footwear options on beyond the Huge Two:  flip-flops and Uggs.  I can report that in the South, there is clearly a fad for these TOMS shoes:    Also,  Topsiders, mocassins, and canvas boat shoes are back.

8.  Try to pick a college with a distinctive name that people will remember.  While its universities are very fine and very beautiful, the state of Virginia has not excelled at college naming.  William and Mary. Mary Washington. Washington and Lee. University of Virginia.  Virginia Commonwealth.  Virginia Tech.  James Madison.  George Mason.  My suggestion?  Just merge the whole mess of them together and call the extended web of campii James Mason, after the Hollywood actor.  Much easier.

9.  Make sure your kid has his/her driver’s license before starting out on your voyage.  You will need another driver.  A permit may not help – if you’re going out of state, your child may not be allowed to drive there.  (Chris didn’t know this when he and Ian went to New England.  Turns out Ian got a crash course in highway driving during rush hours in New York and Boston, all illegally.  Thankfully, there were no mishaps.)  Trust me, after extensive college touring, your eyes will glaze over and your legs will be too tired to press the accelerator.  We were very grateful to have a rotation of 3 drivers in our car of 4.

10.  Pray that your tour guide will say something he/she is not supposed to say.  The best parts are when they go off-script.   True example:  “This is our student health clinic.  They manage all of our health issues right away, like if we have strep throat and need antibiotics or if we have a cold or something.  A couple of years ago they took care of the lice outbreak really well.”  (Murmur runs over the crowd.)  “Don’t worry, it’s all cleared up now!”

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