College admissions counselor and educational consultant Mark Montgomery speaks from the campus of Hamilton College to remind students not to forget what a college’s information session is in its essence: a sales pitch. When visiting colleges, remember to focus on the information that’s relevant to making your decision of whether to attend.
As I’ve been driving around Upstate New York visiting colleges, I’ve had some time to reflect on some of the information sessions that I’ve visited, and sometimes these information sessions are really helpful, and sometimes they’re just a complete waste of time. And I could tell you that I just was at a school a couple of days ago, I won’t reveal which on it is, but I was extremely disappointed in the information session. The admissions officer, very personable young guy, probably in his 30s, experienced admissions professional, but he very laid back, very disorganized. He spoke so quickly that there was no way to really understand what he was talking about. There were certain topics that he covered so thoroughly and so completely and based on my knowledge, it was a little bit misleading because he was focusing on research, and how research is such a big deal at this university, and I know that only half, if that, of the students actually participate in research, but he went on and on and on about that. Had very little time for student questions. It was just a very disappointing dog and pony show.
The opposite of that is the college that has the incredible presentation, the wonderful admissions video that is very slick, very well-produced, and gives you this, “Gee whiz, oh my gosh, wouldn’t I love to go here” happy feeling using soaring music and all kinds of cinematic tricks to make you fall in love with the place. But then you don’t get a lot of information about what’s really going on at this school, it’s just a wonderful marketing video.
The problem is that the admissions office is really the sales and marketing division of the college, and it should be, in my estimation, the responsibility of that admissions office to help us to understand what the difference is between this particular college and any other college of a similar size, of a similar makeup, within a similar market niche. And really, that’s what it is, it’s all about market niches.
The school that I think did the best job, and I’m just going to name this one because I thought it was fantastic, was Bates College, and I’ve done a bunch of videos about that, because it was so clear after that one-hour information session what distinguished Bates from its peers. And if you want to watch those videos, you can click on them. But the frustration that I feel as a counselor sometimes is I recognize that my families are going to these colleges, and they’re spending, in some cases thousands of dollars, to travel across the country or across the world for an information session that is no better, and in fact in some cases much worse, than the information that is presented on the web site. A welcoming video that could be on the web site.
So I know that visits are important, and I encourage my families to do them, but these visits can also be fraught with disappointment. And I was very disappointed in this one particular college that just did a really lousy job of differentiating itself from its peers, and also did a lousy job of presenting a very professional, very confident, very well-oiled machine in terms of explaining exactly who it is, what that college is. So you need to do visits, but you also need to think very long and hard about the fact that these schools, some are great at their marketing, some are lousy, some are very slick and highly-produced, and some are very low-tech. Focus on the information. What is the information you need to make a decision about the college you want to spend your money and you want to spend four years of your undergraduate experience at? The visit is one piece of it, and make sure that you put the visit in its proper place as you’re doing your own research and investigation.