In just a few short weeks, hundreds of high school seniors will be flocking to Yale for Bulldog Days. Post-admission season inevitably attracts comparisons between schools, and this year will obviously be no different. Undoubtedly, a good number of prefrosh will arrive in New Haven having memorized such important information about our school as our admissions rate, our U.S. News and World Report ranking and our prominent alumni. They’ll be primed for the experience — armed with knowledge gained from neurotic posts on College Confidential and various urban legends about the Ivy League. Pretty soon, we’ll be asked to answer the big question: Why Yale?
Of course, we’re not really being asked, “Why Yale?” It’s more like, “Why Yale over insert-school-here?” We’ll be peppered with questions about every department, every class and every professor. And of course, we’ll answer — likely with unnecessary superlatives and gushing adoration. The problem is that our answers will be almost entirely meaningless.
I always hated college visits. There was never much that I got out of a tour that I couldn’t find out with some basic Googling and a modicum of resourcefulness. The reality is that we, as students, will have a far greater impact on prefrosh than the admissions office ever will. And the problem is that we tend to answer the wrong questions about our school. The vast majority of prefrosh tend to be pretty myopic. We should be pointing them to the right questions — the questions that they should be asking, but aren’t.
Now, this isn’t to blame prefrosh. It’s difficult for anyone to understand what aspects of a school will affect his experience before he actually attends college.
Take this quintessential question, for example: “How’s the insert-department-here compared to the one at Cornell or Harvard?” Our answer is almost always “It’s great!” Most of us then continue by rattling off a few important or particularly effective professors. We talk about the opportunities and programs that the department offers; we discuss the various majors and academic counseling services available. But aside from being an entirely inane question that’s better answered by a quick search of the Yale website, our answer really won’t help a prefrosh decide between schools. We’ve never attended any of Yale’s peer institutions and, consequently, we can’t give them a fair comparison between our history department and Princeton’s or our architecture major and Stanford’s.
These types of academic questions are unnecessary. Even if we could objectively compare the quality of our academic programs with those of one of our peer institutions, it’s hard to imagine that the discrepancies are significant at all. It’s hard to go wrong with an undergraduate education at pretty much any major school. I’d be hard-pressed to find many high school seniors who can say with certainty that they would exhaust the resources available at most schools.
I suggest that high school seniors focus attention on each college campus — what life is like outside of studying for classes. There’s so much more to the college experience than a vanilla set of statistics about departments or what one school’s seniors tend to do after graduation.
It’s not as though this is a particularly novel insight: We all understand this intuitively, and most Yalies at least try to give prefrosh a taste of the rest of Yale. But I’d also point out that it’s not enough to simply discuss Yale’s party culture or which clubs on campus to join, which are the most frequent non-academic conversations we have with prefrosh.
I have yet to meet anyone who feels like he hasn’t changed significantly since high school. That change doesn’t happen because of a few club meetings or parties, however. It’s the day-to-day moments that make Yale special.
Unfortunately, people have a habit of assuming that the minutiae of their daily lives aren’t worth sharing. Realistically, they’re often right. Other Yalies probably don’t care. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find a prefrosh who’s experienced even half of the things that we take for granted every day around here. If we want to be useful resources to prefrosh, we should describe the late-night philosophical debates we had last night in our suites or the hilarious story of what happened at Screw last weekend. We shouldn’t tell them which classes are worth taking; there’s time for that when they begin bluebooking as freshmen.
We should answer questions like “What did you do today?” — not “Where do you study?” Recount what you’ve gotten out of Yale; talk about how you’ve changed or grown. Was it what you wanted? What about college made that happen? Answer questions that add meaning to the college admissions process, not those that would appear in an admissions booklet.
Shreyas Tirumala is a freshman in Trumbull College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .