Beyond College Brochures: Don’t Be Fooled

You’ve no doubt seen them by now. Those expensive, glossy, full-color college brochures that tout the institution’s image and credentials.

Have you ever noticed that a lot of them seem very much alike? If visitors from another solar system came to Earth and found a bunch of these slick marketing pieces, they would no doubt report back to home base that America’s higher-education institutions have the following characteristics:

  • students are tall and thin; they dress smartly and smile frequently
  • most colleges and universities are located in “Sun-belt” areas where clouds are rare
  • classes are small and seminar-like and held on lush, green lawns
  • a beautiful lake is the visual center of most campuses; ducks and geese abound
  • the architectural theme is “Gorgeous Gothic” with spires and arches galore
  • and so forth and so on.

See where this is headed? The bottom line: Don’t judge a college by its brochure. You must gather first-hand intelligence about the schools on your list. Now that school will be over in a few weeks, it’s an excellent time for all you high-school juniors (who are about to become seniors) to plan your summer/fall college visits.

The two most important sources of information are personal impressions from visiting the campus and comments from students who go there. Personal visits are mandatory. Unless you have “trod the sod” of your candidate schools, you’ll never know what it’s like to be there. The obvious answer, then, is to schedule a visit. For a detailed look at how to maximize your visit, check out College Visit Tips. You can also see actual descriptions of college visits in our new College Visits section.

Students’ opinions can be a little more difficult to gather. The information is available, though. While you’re on campus, you can ask students questions directly. College guide books are another way to get student opinions. If you’ve cruised bookstores, you’ve seen them: The Insiders Guide to the Colleges, America’s 373 Best Colleges, The Fiske Guide, and so forth. These books compile student comments gathered from questionnaires. Some of the comments about class sizes, food, social life, work loads, and the like will surprise you. In some cases, the brochure image fades quickly.

Don’t be fooled by clever marketing. It’s your college experience, your time, and education. Make the most of it.