Tuesday, June 05, 2007

This was an interesting article.

When I was starting to look at colleges in earnest, in the spring of my junior year of high school, my parents were totally confused. I was, for all intents and purposes, a first-generation college student (my dad went for two years on the GI Bill, but didn't earn a degree, and, really, didn't have a "normal" college experience. He was one of about 50 male GI's taking classes on the then all-female Carlow College campus.). When literature about various colleges started pouring in after I took the PSAT's, we were overwhelmed.

I knew theoretically that there were thousands of colleges and universities in the United States (thanks to my handy-dandy Reader's Digest Almanac and Book of Facts), but I didn't imagine that any of them would send me mail based only on the fact that I did pretty well on the PSAT's. I got stuff from teeny, tiny liberal arts schools in Minnesota, and from UCLA. Of course, I was interested in every single one of them for a long time. I wanted to visit schools in New England, Texas, Michigan, North Dakota, New Mexico...well, you get the point.

My parents, however, put the kaibosh on that. The said we could go to any college night programs that took place anywhere near Pittsburgh, and maybe visit a few nearby colleges in the summer. I had to narrow my choices on my own.

I have to admit, that my methods were pretty much as arbitrary as the ones in the article. I eliminated one school because they sent me too much junk (that would be Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. I hope that they either stopped that practice, or that one of their admission/marketing people happens to find this blog and learns just how irritating all that mail was). I eliminated others because the pictures in their viewbooks scared me. I was pretty sure I couldn't attend a school where students spontaneously formed human pyramids on the quad. I initially eliminated all the Catholic colleges (you'll learn why when I write about the high school phase of my journey sometime this week), but then I put a few back in. I did eliminate all the really conservative Christian colleges on a permanent basis, because they scared me, too.

Finally, at the beginning of the summer before my senior year, I had my list narrowed down to 10 schools. I don't remember all of them, but I do know that they included West Virgina Wesleyan, Dickinson, Mount Holyoke, and of course Gannon, which was really my fall-back school.

That summer, we visited West Virginia Wesleyan in person. I liked, it, but it was really rural, and a little too small. We also went to college nights for Dickinson, Mount Holyoke, and Gannon. The first two were in swank, downtown hotels. Gannon's was at the Green Tree Holiday Inn. That is a key factor later on, which is why I mention it now.

Now, there was no way in creation we could visit Mount Holyoke in person. We just didn't have the money for a trip to New England. But my dad did decide we could see Dickinson in person, and he wanted to go see Gannon (he used to babysit the guy who was the Dean of Enrollment Services back then).

So, the week before school started, we went on a day trip to see Gannon. Honestly, I wasn't that impressed. There was no campus. I wanted a school with green space and old buildings and ivy and stuff like that. I couldn't tell what buildings belonged to Gannon and which ones didn't. It was not an auspicious visit.

My visit to Dickinson in the fall, however, was. It had the old, stone buildings, the ivy, the clearly-defined campus. It had the changing leaves, and the village feel. It was exactly what I was looking for.

In the end, I only applied to Dickinson and Gannon. I knew there was a chance I wouldn't get accepted to Dickinson, so I wanted that fall-back school. I eliminated WVW because it was just too remote, and I eliminated Mt. Holyoke because I realized I could never fit in with the daughters of rich folk.

After I sent in my applications, I put it all out of my mind. I still had to pass Calculus if I wanted to get in anywhere, after all, and I still had to make sure that I finished ahead of SR in class rank (I wrote about her in the elementary school post). I did, by the way. She didn't even make the top ten. Take that, witch with a captial B!

Anyhow, the first acceptance letter I got was from Gannon. They offered me a really good financial aid package. I was happy that at least I knew I'd have some place to go in the fall.

While waiting to hear from Dickinson, I got to thinking, not about how prestegious the two colleges were, or how nice their campuses were, but how the felt. Dickinson felt a little uptight, a little pretentious to me. It felt like they were making too much of an effort to impress, both visitors and students alike.

Gannon, on the other hand, felt like an old friend. They were laid back in their college night. One of the professors even came and presented about his research. Where as Dickinson had fancy hors d'oevers (I think there is a "u" in there somewhere, but I'm too lazy too look it up) for refreshments, Gannon had pop, chips, and cookies. When they visited my school, I couldn't attend the presentation because it was during Calculus (couldn't miss that class for love or money). The admissions person stuck around and talked to me during my lunch period instead. In short, they impressed me by being genuine, and I had a good feel about that.

So, I made the decision to go to Gannon, and asked by dad to send in the deposit without waiting to hear from Dickinson. I'm convinced I made the best choice. I did get accepted at Dickinson, by the way (but couldn't afford to go because they didn't give scholarships to freshmen, and their maximum need-based award wouldn't have covered as much as I needed it to cover.).

So yeah, I guess the college-choosing process really is arbitrary on the part of the students. But sometimes you have to go with your instinct over cold, hard facts.

3 comments:

Mary Dolheimer said...

Sheryl,

I'm the marketing person at Elizabethtown College. I'd love to talk with you in regards to your comment regarding our mailings. You might be able to provide some helpful insight. My e-mail is dolheimerm@etown.edu. Thahks!

David said...

My daughter will be a senior in hs in the fall from OH. We are looking at a number of schools. Etown is her first choice. The atmosphere at the school and the quality of education is a great fit for her.

Re all the material: we have 3 big boxes of stuff from all over the place. Don't remember that much from Etown per se. But there are some who keep sending. One thing we learned...let schools know you aren't interested in them and they will quit sending the stuff.

Sheryl said...

See, I was interested in E-town. I liked their majors, I liked the people I spoke with, and I liked what the campus looked like in the viewbook.

What I didn't like was coming home every single day to a new postcard or brochure, or letter, or booklet. Throughout my the summer between 11th and 12th grade and the fall of 12th grade, it literally had gotten that bad.

I had about 5 archive-sized boxes of stuff from colleges, and one of them was filled with nothing but stuff from E-town. I call that excessive.

Mary, I will e-mail you shortly just to tell you my experience. Other than the volume, though, I really didn't have anything to say.

OK. Back to work.