For the past week and a half, I’ve found myself marveling at the verdant trees, barely subsumed by the stunning hallmarks of academic and intellectual excellence that line Locust Walk.  

This reads like a college brochure that would be thrust into your hands by an unnaturally chipper student tour guide, doesn’t it? Do I sound like I’m trying to sell Penn? Probably. To be fair, though, I never got the chance to hear these glossy, almost propaganda-worthy words before I arrived at the University of Pennsylvania as a transfer student on a sweltering August afternoon this summer. 

Does that bother me? Not at all. In hindsight, I think that not visiting Penn prior to New Student Orientation actually worked to my benefit.  

I remember returning to high school from winter break as a junior and hearing my classmates rave about the college campuses they visited with their parents. They would say, with look of infatuation — if not downright love — in their eyes that they could see themselves thriving at these schools, doing academic research, joining a bevy of clubs, and taking classes with professors who would inspire them to no end. They probably wrote what they said verbatim in their admissions essays. 

How many of them are actually going to the colleges of their dreams? How many of them are actually thriving at those colleges now that they got in? Fewer than you’d think.  

The problem, plain and simple, is that college visits build full-fledged fantasies. These fantasies, however, rarely become realities. Some people imagine marrying their favorite celebrities. Others dream about living in luxurious mega-mansions overlooking the Atlantic. More often than not, though, these fantasies are just that: fantasies. 

College rejections during admissions season visits are more painful, though. This is because college visits let us tiptoe into the fantastical realm of our ideal lives as we stroll amongst the students who were fortunate enough to attend said college every day. 

Therefore, college visits hinder students’ perceptions of attending that specific college. Instead of visiting schools, high schoolers should focus on what they truly want in their college experience. They should deeply consider what is most important to them academically and socially before letting a school visit determine that for them. 

Visiting colleges drains families of both their money and their time. Just taking a round trip via Amtrak could cost two people at least $200. Longer trips by plane burn an even bigger hole in families’ pockets. Time is just as precious as money to high school students. With SATs, AP’s and extracurricular activities, they have very little time to go travel and marvel at a college they hope to get into. 

Tell me I’m making false connections, but visiting colleges — before you get in, that is — may actually decrease a student’s chances of admission. Demonstrated interest only goes so far if it detracts from the traits that really get admissions officers going — grades, scores and talent. 

Why, then, do families expunge so many of their precious resources — many of which they need to send their child off to any college — to visit schools? Demonstrated interest is probably the primary reason. Smaller colleges may actually track which students visited or got involved with the college in some way or another. High schoolers would rather not leave anything to chance on their applications. Wouldn’t you feel awful if the admissions committee chose somebody else over you just because that other person visited while you stayed at home? 

Decisions as momentous as college acceptances and rejections may not be as dramatic as this. Yet how much do we really know about the secret conversations that happen behind the closed doors of admissions committees’ offices? 

I’ve attended two universities in the past two years. I visited the former after being accepted. I don’t think that tours of either place would have truly told me which one is “better." College tours exist to advertise the best aspects of the university. They will make you think that every opportunity is accessible at your fingertips; that the sunny, cloudless day you visited the campus will emulate every day you are actually there. 

It is not the college alone that will make or break your experience. A university is a template on which you should apply your desires and aspirations, not the other way around.

ALEX SILBERZWEIG is a College sophomore from New York, studying mathematics and economics. Her email address is alexsil@sas.upenn.edu. “Brutally Honest” usually appears every other Tuesday.

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