First Impressions … Not Always On Target

My husband Michael and I celebrated our 23rdwedding anniversary this month. But it never would have happened if I had let my first impression stand.

We first encountered each other at the holiday party of a mutual friend.  We didn’t actually meet, but I remember seeing him and a bunch of his friends running all over the house, diving behind furniture and shooting each other with rubber darts.  I was not impressed.

As fate would have it, however, we ran into each other again a few months later at a Valentine’s Day party. This time we met, talked for a few minutes, and hit it off.  Needless to say, I saw him in a different light!

When it comes to sizing up a potential college, high school students can be just as quick to let their first impressions carry the day, a mistake which can result in missed opportunities.

For example, I was on a tour last week led by a student who said she hated the school on her first visit. She hadn’t wanted to come at all and she was not open to liking it.  But her dad dragged her back for a second visit and this time she saw a few things that drew her in.  Before long the school became her first choice and today she loves it.

Sometimes a student is dissuaded by a small thing which turns him or her off.  Maybe they came to visit on a rainy day.  Maybe someone they don’t like is planning to attend that college.  Perhaps the school name is not familiar.

Often it’s the campus tour guide, the first student that most visitors meet.  I once took a tour at a large Division I school and was shocked that the tour guide focused almost exclusively on his area of interest – theater.  He neglected to mention the very large sports focus at the school, something which is a draw for many potential students.

The key is to keep an open mind and to be both thorough and systematic when visiting a school, as well as to do some of your own research before arrival.

I always spend a few hours on each campus I visit, making sure to include a student-led tour and a meeting with admissions.  I also try to eat in the cafeteria, visit academic support services, interact with a number of current students and check out the surrounding area for off-campus options.

I also recommend that students try to attend a class, hang around a student space (without parents), read the school paper and check out the bulletin boards.

Keep in mind as well that sometimes what may at first seem like an insurmountable obstacle can be fixed. If, for example, a school is “too small” (in your child’s eyes), it may be feasible if it is close to a larger school or in an interesting city (the way small Champlain College is next to University of Vermont in the fun college town of Burlington). Or a school that is deemed to be too big can feel smaller if your child is able to take advantage of an honors program, a living/learning community or will soon be immersed in major classes with a smaller group.

Remember, as you continue to visit schools in the coming months, there are often interesting programs and features at many schools that are not obvious at first glance. Try to make sure your child gives a school a good enough look before they knock it off their list and that they visit more than once (when possible) for those schools that make it to the short list.

In my experience, being open to that second look can sometimes turn a “not interested” into a future husband. I mean college.

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