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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

“People wore goofy flamingo sweaters:” The importance of visiting colleges

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Before I went on my first college visit, I thought that spending the night with a stranger was pretty high on the list of Things Not To Do. Innuendoes aside, spending the night at a college as a prospective student or “prospie” looks pretty tame now, but from the perspective of a nervous high schooler, such an endeavor looked bold, daring, scary. It looked especially so to me when I heard that a friend of my host was going to take me to a political protest.

That was my visit to Swarthmore. After staying with a quiet international student in an off-campus house, I met up with one of her friends and a group of Quaker activists. We marched on the local bank, which had been supporting companies that practiced mountaintop removal

and other environmentally unsustainable activities. Members of the Swarthmore women’s lacrosse team stopped practicing across the street and watched us as if we were ambassadors of a vaguely interesting alien race. Police escorted an elderly woman through the ranks of the protesters—a smallish group of singing Quakers, mind you—to withdraw money from the bank.

I remember many other vi- gnettes and snapshots from my college visits: eyeing the armed guards at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, asking where the down- town area was at Oberlin (essentially, there was none), and watching in astonishment and horror as the students in a large psychology lecture at Harvard— Harvard—didn’t pay attention in class but rather surfed the net on their laptops. Through these experiences, I began to get used to the routine of trying on college after college, and my nervousness died down, but it never fully went away. There was always the lingering question as I stepped on a campus or sat down in a class—is this my future?

That question was lingering in my head when I first arrived at Carleton. It was a rainy Octo- ber day in 2011, and I was beginning to become burned out by my college search, wondering if I would ever find the right one. I met my prospie hosts—Morgan Matzke and Kate Richards of the class of 2014—outside Scoville, and the first thing that I noticed, aside from the fact that they were both, perhaps, inordinately glad to see me, was that one of them was wearing a goofy flamingo sweater. I noted that Carleton was the kind of place where people wore goofy flamingo sweaters. Maybe it would be the right kind of place for me. And as it turns out, it was.

Really, I can’t say enough about the value of visiting colleges as a prospective student. A college can be extremely different in the flesh than it appears on paper, and that’s something that you can’t know until you arrive on campus—on many campuses, if you can—and take note of the cool Quakers, the scary security guards, the imaginary downtowns, the apathetic Facebookers, and the goofy flamingo sweaters. It can be intimidating to be taken in by strangers at a strange college in a strange city, but in the end, it is time well spent, indeed.

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