Monday, December 12, 2005

College Visits Don't Need To Suck

How many of these have we been to? These great-intentioned trips that yield so-very limited results? We go to colleges and kids sit in chairs and listen to speeches they barely understand, much less appreciate, much less find informational, much less feel inspired and motivated by. They walk around campuses without any idea why they're doing it, staring at things that are pointed out to them, and then go back to pacing idly behind a backward-walking undergrad, discussing the same vapid topics teenagers everywhere find engaging. When you asked them what they learned, their responses are less informed than usual; when you ask them how they felt, they ambivalence is worse because of the high hopes and planning that went into the event.

If this is what we're doing, what are we doing?

Without a tremendous amount of research on the functioning of the adolescent hypothalamus, and lacking a grant from a think tank hoping to use my findings for some cross purpose, I think all college visits ought to run something like this.

Daily Life
Students need to be exposed to an average college student's schedule; it is uniquely amazing, or perhaps amazingly unique. When else in your life can you wake up, become educated for a while, vomit, hang out, read a little, hang out, play basketball, become educated some more, eat food, and then party until diving into hedges and underbrush seems not only appropriate but fundamentally fulfilling? No where else. Right. Pull up some current students and literally have them describe how they spend an average Wednesday.

Talk about them in language kids can comprehend. Don't talk about units, vocational focus, certificates, BA or BS choices, degree requirements. Stop pretending that you need to know what the hell you're going to do with your life before you get to college; not only is it untrue, it scares the crap out of kids who mostly like to talk on the phone and play soccer. Do however, stress the part about getting to pick your own classes, and design a program that allows students to create a schedule -- including the times offered. They should leave with this.

Seeing the dorms is really important and must happen. If said college has no dorms, that sucks, but even if the college to be visited has like one dorm where the non-smoking, non-cursing, earth-crisis vegans live, show them. Here, this ia a college dorm room. Everything on that half is yours. Especially for low income kids sharing ridiculously small amounts of space, this is going to seem amazing. Also, there's that male-female proximity thing. Oh, the tingles.

Campus Tours
...are boring. No one cares that that one over there is the business building. As a 17-year-old who pretty much cared about colleges, I hated visiting them, hating walking in groups, hated the whole talking point speech. You know what our kids remember about visiting UC-Berkeley? Trying to find the little bear on the facade of that building. You need things like that, and you need to spice it up. "That's where we would sled down the hill on stolen cafeteria trays..." "That's where you can get these chicken strips that are ridiculously good, and you can bypass the rest of the line by..." "Over there is the spot where black-clad student radicals took over the building until they were tear-gassed into submission..." The good stuff. Get the good stuff.

...are boring, too. But every school has one that's really cool. We had this mini-lecture hall with various deep thinkers painted on the ceilings, inscribed with their famous utterances. Pick one classroom, sit them in those chairs -- which have to be more comfortable than the metal-plastic concoctions we've got -- and let em groove on it.

Dining Halls
Take them to the dining hall, let them eat the actual food that actual college students eat. No one cares if you think it's gross, they will think it is amazing and talk about it for the rest of the week.

The Speeches
Now that you've impressed them, talk about how to get here. Talk simply, in monosyllables, about getting to grade level so you can take the right math classes and have electives. Stress doing things outside of school and validate those pursuits. Talk about financial aid and how much colleges like giving it. Explain that the doors to such places aren't just open, but there are actually people whose job it is to give you money, and set your feet upon the moving walkways of life. Tell exactly how much money you handed at least year/semester. Explain to them that their experiences are valued -- at least in the superficial sense of having ethnically balanced demographics and admissions brochures. Then give them stuff with your college name on it. Good stuff, or at least decent. Then tell them you'll see them in X years and get them back on the bus.


Anonymous Ms. J said...

This is why I just love your stuff.

7:08 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Thanks, I appreciate it.

8:42 PM  

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