On this day exactly one year ago, I had my gigantic map of the United States’ colleges sprawled out on my dining room table. As I frantically scoured it, I began listing dates and planning college visits on a spreadsheet, encompassing August of 2022 all the way to May of 2023. Eventually, by the time August rolled around, I had booked college tours at roughly half of all my planned locations along with the campsites within range. My typical inner thoughts leading up to this point were something like:
“Maine…let’s see. There are three schools I really want to see there. That means I need to pick a campsite within a two hour drive of all three. But since we are going to be there over the weekend, I also should look for a site within a relatively short drive to tourist stop of some sort since we have never been to Maine. What about Acadia National Park? Hmmmmm….I think Bangor is the perfect spot.”
As I mapped out (no pun intended) all these details, my wife and I were also busy taking care of all the things a family might need to consider when planning to spend a year on the road. We had no idea what was in store.
And now here I am, 35,000 miles and ten months later. I’m reflecting on the fact that we spent literally over 20% of our time over the past ten months in a moving vehicle. I feel thankful beyond measure that I was able to visit so many amazing colleges, ranging from gigantic state universities, to technical schools, to the smallest liberal arts college one could imagine. I saw campuses with views of gigantic skyscrapers, wooded valleys, corn fields, and the Pacific Ocean. I walked the manicured pathways at schools where less than 8% of students applying to will actually have an opportunity to attend, and I found myself impressed beyond measure at schools where over 80% of prospective students could attend.
Likewise, my wife and I found ourselves in tourist hot spots like New York City, Washington DC, New Orleans and San Francisco, but we also made precious memories in places off the beaten path, like the Mr. Rogers Institute in Latrobe, PA, Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, and at a space observatory on the top of Mt. Lemon outside Tucson, AZ. When it comes to special places we’ve seen, I could go on and on.
Ultimately, is is nearly impossible to reflect on everything we saw and experienced. But I do know one thing: We have learned to be a little more adaptive to everyday changes and a little less dependent on comforts and routine. Try living in a 22 foot camper with 4 pets in 30 states over a 10 month period...the same would happen to you!
But let’s get back to the topic at hand…college! After visiting so many schools in such a short time, I have documented a vast amount of information and look forward to using it when I help my students choose colleges to pursue. At the same time, I have also picked up on some typical “college-tour-isms” that I came across time after time. Those of you who have toured a handful of schools might identify with some of these. So, for the time being, let’s have a little fun and perhaps a few laughs while we’re at it. Listed below are some of those all-too-often mentioned highlights I encountered at many, many (in some cases, nearly 98%) of my visits. In the meantime, I will continue rolling out blogs on particular colleges I toured on this trip, so stay tuned!
Be sure to avoid walking on the special seal (often the historical school logo etched on the ground), or you won’t graduate. But if you do accidentally step on it, you can undue the curse by jumping in that freezing cold pond nearby and going for a swim.
Speaking of swimming in the pond, expect to hear your tour guide mention the tradition of students getting tossed in the pond (or fountain) on their birthday, or how all the seniors jump in to celebrate the end of their college careers.
Most libraries have multiple levels. If you see one with three, you might hear the tour guide say something like this: “On the bottom level, you can talk at a normal volume like I am doing right now. On the second level it gets a little quieter and you need to actually whisper. On the third, you can hear a pin drop. And if you do drop that pin, everyone will turn and give you the ugly eye.” - This was the one I heard at 98% of my visits.
“We have hundreds of clubs, and if you want to start your own, all you need are some signatures and at least two students.” - Also, 98% of my visits.
Speaking of clubs, believe it or not, I heard about the famed Taylor Swift Club or Taylor Swift Appreciation Society at AT LEAST 40 schools. At this point, if a school doesn’t have a Taylor Swift student group of some sort, I might question it (I'm obviously joking). Other popular clubs tour guides love to mention: The cheese club, dance club, and student a-capella groups.
Oddly enough, it just so happened to be the tour guide’s birthday at a very high percentage of schools I visited. Go figure! Basically, expect to hear friends of your tour guide wish them a happy birthday no matter when you visit.
The tour guide points out a fancy gate, marked as an entrance onto the campus. Students only walk through this gate twice. Once during convocation as a new freshman, and once upon graduating. If they walk through any other time, they will be cursed and won’t graduate. There sure are a lot of superstitions for places of higher learning!
Particularly with east coast colleges, it is very, very common to hear about their spring concert which is usually on the main quad. Hundreds, even thousands of students will gather for outdoor festivities, a concert (or multiple), and food to celebrate the arrival of spring.
A few large state schools claimed to have the biggest, or busiest, or most profitable Starbucks among all schools in the country.
Expect many schools in Virginia and states to the south to have a Chick Fil A on campus.
Naturally, colleges like to promote their international students. But it seems like the ONLY way to do this is to designate a space and hang up a flag of every country represented on the campus. It’s a pretty neat idea, which I suppose is why virtually every school does this.
And finally, many campuses have that special spot where you will supposedly marry your significant other if you kiss at said location. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll have a married alumni couple on your tour to backup this claim!
So enjoy your college visits when that time comes! And maybe you’ll look back on this and chuckle when you come across one, or two or multiple examples of any one of these.