Accidental truths on a college trip

At the end of last week, the three of us traveled to Providence and Boston to visit four of The Girl’s possible colleges in person. New Jersey K-12 schools were closed Thursday and Friday for a statewide teachers’ convention, so on every campus, the NJ people were out in force. It became a common joke as we went from one information session to the next.

Before seeing them in person, TG had a hard time distinguishing them beyond a few obvious points. Virtual presentations tend to get mixed up; look at a few back to back, and it’s hard to tell them apart from each other. In-person tours provide a much more vivid picture of everyone, for better or for worse.

The rules related to Covid varied from campus to campus. At first, each potential student was only allowed one guest, even though the visit was entirely outside. I didn’t quite understand the reasoning, but took one for the team and volunteered to explore the city during the tour. It went well. University towns have a certain meaning; I burst out laughing when I saw a bright pink trash can with “No War but Class War” written on the side with a smiley face underneath. I doubt he converted anyone, but as he trashed, he had a certain panache. Maybe because she didn’t see the trash can, TG loved it. There was a good mix of campus and city, and the campus atmosphere was positive.

The second stop allowed two guests per student, so we were both able to follow. It featured an indoor briefing (masks required), followed by a tour. The info session was a bit commercial for my taste, but otherwise within limits. The tour might or might not have been efficient if the guide’s microphone was better; as it stands, we have captured maybe a third of what she said. Even with that, however, the mere physical presence of the campus made an impression. It was the only school on this trip that overlapped with TB visits a few years ago. I liked him better this time, but only relatively. TG seemed neutral on this.

The third was a real disappointment. We had to take an outdoor walking tour which is understandable but the place felt deserted. For a Thursday in the middle of a semester, it was difficult to explain. The campus was a lot more self-sufficient than we expected, which is the kind of information you don’t (usually) get from a virtual tour. Before going, he was number two on TG’s list; I think it went down a few notches once she saw it. There was some fun architecture, but the overall feeling was that it was a moody bubble. Coming on the heels of others, the contrast was stark.

The last one, Friday, still allowed only one visitor per student. TW took the morning to reconnect with an old friend from the area, so I went on this one. It included an information session with four current students, followed by a very good visit. It also featured an admissions director who either hadn’t been told about the party line or just didn’t care anymore.

The party line on “advance ruling” requests is that although they are binding, they do not affect the financial aid offers that students receive. This is believed to be especially true in colleges that meet “full need”. The need does not vary depending on when you apply. But this admissions director casually noted – he noted everything casually – that part of appealing applicants for advance ruling, from an institution’s point of view, is that “we don’t have to. compete for them once they are accepted “. I tried to keep a straight face, but it was a struggle. Other than softening financial offers, I’m not sure what “compete” might mean in this context. He also compared the acceptance rate of an early decision to the acceptance rate of a regular decision – more than twice as high – and asked us to ‘do the math’.

I was surprised. It was quite a departure from the usual public statements. TG noted that his darkest suspicions seemed to be confirmed; I couldn’t argue. At the very least, I felt justified in advising TG to avoid an early decision; we are just not able to get around a stingy financial offer considering the sticker prices charged by these places. Apparently the “need” is negotiable.

He was even more direct when it came to discussing what “optional testing” means. He suggested that if your “superscore” SAT is above 1460, it is worth submitting scores; otherwise, it probably isn’t. I was surprised he named a number. (A “superscore” SAT means that if you did it more than once, you submit the best scores for each section. So if you did better on the verbal part the first time around, and better on the math the next. second time, the sum of the first verbal and the second mathematical would be the super graded total.) Upon reflection, I was able to see the institutional logic: if only students with higher scores submit scores, then their average score to the SAT increases without even trying. As TG later noted, this also offers a proxy for family wealth. As she also noted in a vaguely conspiratorial tone, “My SATs suggest we have a lot more money than we actually have.” Again, I couldn’t argue.

It also suggests a difference between “optional test” and “neutral test”. If admission is a good of position, then an advantage for one candidate is, by definition, a detriment for another. It hasn’t found a place in the larger conversation yet, but it should.

The students in the panel were pretty good. When someone asked about studying abroad, several of them rolled their eyes and mentioned that the subject was a sensitive point; COVID had anchored them during their junior years. But they were otherwise both positive and believable, and the guide was wonderful. This institution was a bit of a dark horse, but it did well.

I have been struck by many questions that have never been raised. No one asked about preferences for heirlooms, athletes, or well-connected people. This may have depended on the target audience. TG does not fall into any of these categories, and there is nothing she can do about it. The transfers only took place at the fourth institution, and only in passing. By offering diversity statistics, each school treated international students as a separate race, which hadn’t occurred to me. Graduation rates were not mentioned. I don’t remember anyone talking about tutoring. No tour guide has fallen over, so that’s fine.

TG was very good at keeping a consistent bowling pin, which I like to think of as a family trait. Four colleges in two days is a lot, but she maintained her composure and interest throughout. She’s already seen two of the others on her list, so there are three left. His list is a mix of public and private, large and small; in general, she wants strong English and history departments in or near cities. I maintain that any school would be lucky to have it.

I also maintain that any community college could do wonders with the educational budgets available in places like these. I won’t go all the way to the hot pink trash, but basic parity would be welcome.

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