By Sophia Goodwin-Rice
To a teenager between the tenth and twelfth grades, there is no question more nerve wracking and repulsive than the “college question.” It begins innocently enough: simple queries about what you might be interested in or where you’ve visited so far. Then it becomes a little more intense: where are you thinking of applying, what are your top schools, when are your applications due, from whom do you have an answer and finally, what did you choose?
Throughout my senior year, I found it almost impossible to hold a conversation with an adult where they didn’t bring up college within the first few minutes. With the amount of popularity surrounding the subject, along with the heaps of advice I was getting (including thick books all about college admissions), it seemed like applying to college was the most important thing I was going to do in my life, ever.
In a lot of ways, the hype of college application season is an excellent thing. While some students are raised in environments where it’s expected they’ll go to college, others have never seen it as a possibility. With some high schools pushing for every senior to apply to at least one school, offering incentives, advising and scholarship funds for students who can’t afford application fees, college applications have become much more accessible to more students. Furthermore, it makes a huge difference for universities to go the extra mile and send a representative to a school or area college fair, providing a resource that’s more than just a shiny pamphlet.
But about that shiny pamphlet: what is it really advertising? I recently read an interesting quip made by somebody online saying that perhaps we should start referring to colleges as businesses offering a four-year “experience” rather than just an education. After all, college isn’t just about getting a degree — there are friends, fun events, sports, food and a whole bundle of memories to go along with it. And, as all businesses do, colleges have to sell this “experience” as best as they can. As I was applying to colleges just a year ago, I noticed how every school filled its informational pamphlets with flowers, autumnal trees, smiling students and sunshine. All programs were described with emphatic vocabulary, simultaneously brimming with enthusiasm and trying to exhibit the unique nature of that particular school. And the statistics – the large, colorful figures boasting percentages of student success, diversity, participation in activities and everything else under the sun.
Now that I’ve been in college for two months, I’ve started to see the differences between this advertisement and the reality. Questions begin to arise about how the school truly operates and the responsibilities it has for its students. Here at Willamette, the loss of physical health care at Bishop is a perfect example. If the University is committed to providing a safe and positive environment to its students, does it also owe them medical care, a service that was possibly a key factor to a student’s decision to attend the school in the first place?
At the same time though, it isn’t just the universities that are being misleading. College applications are expected to be spotless, the selling point for yourself as an investment, and the perfect student for the particular school. The students who sit in admissions interviews or are praised in letters of recommendation may not be the same students who move in in the fall. In a lot of the ways, it’s a gamble for both sides. How much truth can you expect?
All in all, I’ve decided that while it was an experience to remember, the college admissions process was not the most important thing I’ll ever do. After months of deliberation and stress, I chose Willamette almost on a whim, and have since moved onto the next stage of adventure. If you’re a prospective student reading this, just remember: don’t worry so much about which school will give you the “best four years of your life.” There will be an inevitable experience, along with inevitable deception on both ends. Just don’t change who you are to conform to a school that might not be what it says it is.