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As you may know if you’ve read my About page, I graduated from West Chester University in 2016. (I think I was proud enough to even mention there that I was a tour guide.) We’re coming up on the second Fall semester that I won’t be returning there, and the idea makes me lightheaded. No part of me is mature enough to admit that I shouldn’t be in college my whole life. Maybe someday I’ll get there, but today is not that day. Tomorrow’s not lookin’ good, either.
As you also may know from reading my post about The Freshman Year of Life, I was a super active college kid. I was a straight-A student, I had an amazing and fun group of friends and roommates. I was a tutor, a research assistant, an intern, the president of the Psychology club, and a tour guide. Being a tour guide was one of my favorite things to do, because I got to spend my time talking about my incredible college experience, and convincing people that my favorite place could be their favorite place. I got to impart my wisdom about college to incoming freshmen (baby rams, we called them, because our mascot is the golden ram) and show them that it isn’t some big, scary, institution. It’s a home.
That’s what I’m going to do for you today.
Uninspired is all about helping young people grow into the best adults they can possibly be. For some, that means learning how to overcome anxiety for job interviews. For others, it might mean having the perfect sex playlist (hey, it’s a thing). But for you guys, it’s choosing the right college so you can go do incredible things for the world. I mean, I don’t know why else you’d click on a post about secrets about college. So, without further ado, here’s my personal list of tips and tricks about choosing a college.
1. If you can, choose a tour guide who had a similar path to the one you plan to take.
I put this obvious one first to get it out of the way. Some larger schools will introduce all the tour guides at the end of the information session, and you can choose one. Don’t choose the one that seems the funniest. Don’t choose the hot one (guilty of THAT when I was choosing schools). Choose the one who is in a sorority if you’re going out for Greek life. Choose the one who’s in the major you plan to go for, or the one who’s also from out-of-state. These are the people who will give you the most insight into YOUR experience if you go there. They’ll be able to answer your more specific questions.
You might even be able to snag your tour guide’s email address and keep in touch with them if you end up going to that school. I always offered that to prospective students if it came up, and no one ever took me up on it. But I would’ve been happy to provide more information, or even meet up for coffee or lunch with someone who was new to West Chester, or who would be new the next year. Trust me– you want to know a person or two at your school when you get there. It’ll make you feel that much more confident. Just make sure you don’t stick so close to that person that you don’t branch out and meet new people, too!
2. Know that your tour guide is just a student, and has no bearing on your acceptance.
My parents always made me dress up and show off like the actual admission counselors would be on my tour with me. Truth is, unless you have an information session or a pre-planned meeting with an admission counselor, you likely won’t even run into them. Of course, it’s still nice to be presentable and more importantly paying attention just in case. But you don’t need to bring your resume, you don’t need to dress like you’re going to an interview. The only thing you might want to bring is a notebook and pen, or a camera to take pictures of things you want to remember.
Honestly though, nothing would grind my gears more than a kid who wasn’t even paying attention while their parents asked all their questions. You’re going to college. You’re going to have to learn to do that kind of thing on your own, or you won’t get very far. Being in college is about taking risks and pushing your personal boundaries so you can learn about yourself and grow. Yes, it’s true that your tour isn’t an interview, but you should still handle it like an adult.
3. No tour guide will ever tell you they’ve felt unsafe on their campus.
If you ask that question, your tour guide will tell you all about how many blue lights they have, how their security officers are real cops, and how efficient their alert system is. They’ll never tell you that they’ve ever felt unsafe. It’s not their fault, really. They’re told not to speak negatively about their school. It’s not that we ever EVER told to lie–that’s definitely not the case. It’s just that we were told to showcase the positive and downplay the negative. It’s common sense that there are bad parts of any school, but when you’re trying to sell it, it doesn’t make much sense to talk about them.
Take matters into your own hands when it comes to this question. Be hyper-aware of your surroundings. Is there a gate around the campus? Is the security guard sleeping at said gate? What is the surrounding neighborhood like? Are there bars on the dorm windows? All of these things will give you a clear idea of how safe you can feel on that campus, regardless of what the tour guide says.
You can also ask deeper questions that the tour guide will be able to answer honestly. They can’t really swerve “how many alerts do they send you per week/month/year?” or “have you ever been on campus during an emergency? What was it like?” The first has a concrete answer, and the second is something that I know I, for one, was not given a stock answer for.
4. Pay attention to the answer to “is it a suitcase school?”
Again, this is a question that tour guides know they shouldn’t say “yes” to. When I was asked this question about West Chester, I would always talk about the myriad of things to do on campus like organizations, shops and restaurants in town, and more. But to be honest, West Chester is a little bit of a suitcase school (I can say this now, I’m graduated).
Lots of people live locally, and they go home on the weekends. At first, that sucked for me because I was from out-of-state and couldn’t go home if I wanted to. But, soon I did get hyper-involved, and I was always busy on the weekend. So, as a tour guide, I told the absolute truth about my experience, and I gave helpful advice, but you’d almost miss the fact that I pretty much said yes, it’s a suitcase school. You really have to pay attention to what your guide is saying so you don’t miss what they really mean.
5. Learn to decipher what your tour guide means when you ask about whether it’s a “party school.”
Again again, this is a question tour guides are told not to answer in much detail. You never know who your audience is, and you’d never want to offend or worry people by talking about the presence of underage drinking. But we totally get it, this is an important thing for you! West Chester is a dry campus. That means that, even if you’re 21, you are not allowed to have alcohol on campus. That’s all I would generally say on that subject. It’s likely that campuses with their own bars, or ones that allow alcohol for 21-year-olds would offer more information, but West Chester’s rule is very cut-and-dry.
This is a question that you’re better off asking a student who isn’t a tour guide, or at the very least, asking one-on-one after the tour. Your guide might be willing to speak more openly when they’re not in front of a crowd of people with potentially differing opinions.
6. Are you visiting on a big event day like Accepted Students Day? That’s not their real food.
Everyone at my school used to make fun of this. On Accepted Students Day, the food in our dining hall was suddenly five stars. And like I always said to my tours, our food wasn’t bad. It wasn’t great, but it’s dining hall food. It’s bland as heck because they want everyone to be able to make their own adjustments. But suddenly, when the prospective students were coming (♥the baby rams♥), it was restaurant-quality.
My tip to beat this is to try to also visit on a regular day. Some schools will allow non-students to eat at their dining hall for an outsider price. By that I mean, a meal swipe at WCU was worth a little over $5. You could go into the dining hall and eat whatever you wanted and only spend that one meal swipe. As a non-student, you would pay $7-$8 for the same thing, but you could still go in. If you can find a student to use a guest swipe on you, that’s even better!
7. Don’t let the weather affect your opinion.
I was so guilty of this when I was looking at schools, until I visited West Chester. On a rainy day, there might not be as much hustle and bustle, but that’s not an accurate representation of the school, so try to account for that. I visited one school in the dead of summer when I was doing my college search. It was like, a hundred degrees. When the tour guide said their freshman dorms didn’t have air conditioning, I was out. But that’s not really fair. If I visited in the middle of winter, I would’ve thought more rationally about the fact that you really only need air conditioning for about a month.
When I visited West Chester though, fate was in my favor. It was also the dead of summer for my first visit. All the tours were booked, but we were told we could do a “self-guided tour” where they’d give us a packet of info and we could walk around on our own and look at stuff. There were no students around, it was hot, and we didn’t even have a tour guide. Yet somehow, I fell in love. So don’t let the circumstances of your visit get in the way of the school itself. The way around this, like with the food, is to visit more than once.