How I didn't turn into a popsicle in college – or – Why college visits are important

I applied to 16 colleges when I was a senior in high school.  First of all, that’s waaaaaaay too many schools to apply to – I think I wrote essays every day for 3 months in order to fill out all the applications.  I didn’t know where exactly I wanted to go, just that I wanted to get far away from home.  A friend’s older sister had gone to Bowdoin College and had loved it.  I went to the their Web site and decided that it was definitely the school for me.  I loved the nice glossy photos of the beautiful campus, the school’s great academic reputation, the statistics about the student body’s activist population, the cool class choices and major options, and the fact that it was in Maine – just about as far away from Alabama as possible.  I could just see myself cozied up in a dorm with a cup of hot tea surrounded by other young activists as we discussed world events and designed petitions for Amnesty International.

Once I had secured my acceptance to Bowdoin, I told my folks straight up that I was going to school in Maine.  My mom laughed and said I wouldn’t last a week there during the winter.  Because, at the ripe age of 17,  I knew everything about everything, I asserted that she was wrong, and to prove my point I arranged for an overnight visit during my Winter Break.  I flew up to Maine, hopped in a cab and rode through some of the most beautiful countryside I had ever seen.  I could just see myself running through the meadows or shopping in the sleepy country towns I saw through the windows.

However, when I arrived at the campus I felt totally at a loss.  The student who was scheduled to pick me up and show me around campus didn’t show up.  I sat in the student union for 3 hours, trying desperately to get cell phone service to call the school to find out what happened to my guide.  Eventually Kristen arrived, apparently having been told I would be there at 5 pm, not noon.  As we sloughed through the gray slush that covered the sidewalk, I shivered and wrapped my coat tighter around me.  The 10-foot snowdrifts alongside the sidewalks and roads were dirty and gray and actually really gross – not the lovely white powder I had always imagined would blanket such a picturesque campus.  I asked Kristen if the dirty snow and cold temperatures were normal and she laughed.  “Oh no, this is unseasonably warm for here.  Usually this time of year it’s well below freezing with wind chill below zero.”

The rest of the trip was just as disappointing as the weather – I didn’t “click” with anyone I met.  Everyone was from the northeast and wanted to hear me say certain words that sounded southern.  I had nothing in common with the students, who seemed more interested in parties and gossip than politics and humanitarian causes.  Apparently, the actual students were quite different from the ones I had read about on the Web site and heard about from my friend’s sister.  I flew home, glad to be away from the windchill and the Yankee accents.

That college visit changed my mind about where I wanted to go to school. I decided that I had to visit every school in my top 10 just to make sure I wasn’t making an uninformed decision.  I ended up quite happy at Auburn (yes, only 4 hours away from home). I was warm and surrounded by folks who I understood and who understood me.  Whenever I would watch the Weather Channel and see the northeast blanketed by snow with temperatures well under freezing, I would heave a sigh of relief.

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