At this time last April, I was in the midst of a whirlwind of college visits, class sit-ins and long deliberations over which school to ultimately attend. There were several factors to compare schools with which seemed impossible to reconcile, and I hoped that talking to students would give me a more intuitive sense of their school. As I had these conversations, however, it became clear to me that at every school, the students had their own pitch — their own reason why their school was the place to be.
At Brown, my good friend from high school talked up the ease of doing research as an undergraduate and an open curriculum which has no breadth requirements. He dismissed Stanford as being “just a big name.” Meanwhile, at Pomona College, a friend of my room host told me about the special relationships students form with faculty at such a small school. She spoke of Stanford and similar schools as being all reputation and no substance. At these and other colleges, many of the students seemed singularly bent on praising their school while criticizing other competing institutions.
Now that I’m a student in college, I have come to understand the allure of recruiting the next generation of students to one’s school. We all identify with the school we are at and that identification can cause us to feel invested in the success of the institution. I recognize this in myself as I puff out my chest and talk trash to my Cal friends during Big Game Week or when I feel an upwelling of pride as I read coverage of a Stanford study in National Geographic.
This affinity can also cause me to want ProFros (Stanford slang for prospective first-years) to attend our school. During winter quarter, an early admit from my former high school was visiting Stanford and visited my dorm to talk. I tried to speak evenhandedly about my experience but I couldn’t help but hope she chose Stanford. Perhaps it is because my reputation is invested in the school and I want the gratification of seeing that my school is good enough for this ProFro. Or perhaps it is simply an allegiance to my future alma mater which I feel obligated to affirm. Either way, instead of just hyping up the school, I think it’s more beneficial to speak as candidly as we can about the pros and cons of our experience.
While my friend was visiting, I also realized that my experience at Stanford was very unique to me and my prior interests. For example, I love the Structured Liberal Education (SLE) program at Stanford, but there is a minority of students who enter SLE and just don’t like it. As I showed my high school friend around my dorm, I was telling her that SLE is a great experience and that she should definitely take it, then we ran into a pre-med student who dislikes SLE, and after she told us her experience, I realized that only speaking the praises of SLE to my friend was a mistake. A more beneficial thing to do would be to just describe the program and the type of people who tend to enjoy it.
The desire for future students to share in our treasured experiences at Stanford can be detrimental to prospective students. One of my Stanford friends signed up for an all-frosh dorm because an alum she knew told her she should definitely live in one. However, my friend now thinks she was better suited for a four-class dorm and wishes she had known about the experience of four-class dorms while she was completing her dorm preference form.
There are so many different types of people at Stanford. There are people who like the humanities and those who like the arts, people who like to party and those who prefer Cardinal Nights, people who are chronically stressed and people who are laissez-faire. Stanford is so multifaceted that we do a disservice to ProFros when we speak like our experience is the Stanford experience — and that because we liked or disliked something, others will feel just the same as we did.
Looking back on that chaotic April, the person who stands out to me as the most helpful is an acquaintance from high school who is now a junior at Stanford. The thing he did so well was simply answered my questions. He didn’t try to recruit me to Stanford. He didn’t preach about where I should live. He spoke from his experience but also the experience of the other people he knew on campus. It was him who assuaged my fears of the rigor of Stanford when he described the variety of unit loads students take on, which allow each student to make Stanford as hard as they want. This kind of impartial guidance gives students the most accurate information for their upcoming decision.
As Admit Weekend arrives and a flood of new ProFros stay on campus, I suggest we reflect on these questions: Are we simply selling Stanford or are we speaking openly about our and others’ experiences? Does our advice assume that a ProFro will have the same interests as we do?
Candid advice from students is a difficult thing to find on college visits, but it’s invaluable when one does come across it. I know from experience that candid advice can be the difference between picking a good college and picking a great one, and the difference between having an okay freshman year and having an unforgettable one.
Contact Ravi Smith at ravi22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.