Physics Professor’s Eye-Opening View of College Application Process

What does a professor of physics and astronomy think about the college admissions/application process? Probably not what you think…

Robert Scherrer of Vanderbilt University wrote a short, but excellent and thought-provoking opinion/commentary piece, “College Applications, Parental Exasperations” for the Wall Street Journal on October 7, 2015. But what caught my attention and made me chuckle was the subhead:

“For starters, when did finding a college turn into a modern version of the 18th-century Grand Tour?”

grand tour
Cross-country college tours have turned into modern-day versions of the Grand Tour. (Here, a painting depicts a future baron on an 18th Century European Grand Tour.) Photo Credit: Pompeo Batoni [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Excellent analogy!

Some other thoughts from the article:

Touring a campus for a good fit:. Mr. Scherrer discusses the “elusive idea of ‘fit.'” As he says in the article: “A prospective student is supposed to step onto the college quad, be struck on the forehead by a ray of light, feel a sense of divine inspiration, and say: ‘Yes, I have found It. This is the place I belong.'” Evidently the tour is also a time to meet with college administrators, a move which helps move along the application process, so I hear. Could the reason be for these “cross-country junkets,” as Mr. Scherrer calls them, because the parents want to make sure their child is going to like the physical place (ie: big enough dorm rooms, nice facilities, nice population of kids, etc.). But, wait…

I understand giving a prospective student a taste of what the campus may look like, but you can’t determine “fit” until you are there for a few weeks. It’s like starting a new job. You love the place when you interviewed there, loved the building, love your new office/cubicle, but after a week or more, you realize it’s not the fit you thought it would be. Oops.

Someone recently asked me if I was the type of mom who would hire an interior decorator for my kids’ dorm rooms. I was stunned to hear that she knew a couple of parents first-hand who had done this, and I was speechless. Yet, after some digging, I realized that this idea of hiring an interior designer for a dorm room really does happen across the country. All I can say is…OMG!

Writing a college essay: Mr. Scherrer could not have said it better — “…most teenagers, especially teenage boys, have all the self-awareness of a turtle.” And who ultimately writes this essay? Yup! Ask any teenage girl about her teenage boyfriend, and she’ll probably agree that it’s a stretch to get anything remotely profound out of him, much less any ideas down on paper about how to save humanity.

I remember writing some sort of essay to get into college (I want to the Fashion Institute of Technology, then NYU), and no one helped me write it. But I remember they told me if it wasn’t for my essay, I wouldn’t have been admitted (because my drawing portfolio stunk–an artist I am not). I wish I could find the essay, but I believe blathered on about how I loved NYC and interior design, and how I thought Sister Parish (interior decorating icon) was my heroine and somehow, I got in. Boom. Nothing earth-shattering to say the least. I wonder how the FIT application/essay process has changed since I went there…and I can’t remember if I even had to write an essay for NYU!

The Big Deal about where your child goes to college: Mr. Scherrer ends with this, “To be honest, I don’t think it actually makes that much difference where you go to college. Or at least not as much difference as some people would like to think.” Hallelujah. A voice of reason!

The entire article is short, and well worth the read. Something to think about, for sure.

~Marilyn, TFF

(p.s. — we will have posts on topics other than college 🙂 Stay tuned.