Campus Visits: How to be a Prospie
About the title: When you visit campus, you will be referred to as a "prospie," which is short for "prospective student." This probably seems obvious, but it took me quite a while to figure it out, so I thought I'd explain it just in case.
Visits are not absolutely necessary, but they're probably the best way to see whether or not you belong at a particular college. Therefore, it's a good idea to get the most out of your visit that you can. This blog gives you a few pointers for doing that. I don't usually go in for grandiose, sweeping statements, but I think I can say without (much of) a doubt that this blog could be one of the most important things you read during your college search. I can say this because I have learned from experience.
There are two main times when it's a good idea to visit a college: (1) before you apply to it, to decide whether or not you're interested enough to go to the trouble of filling out application forms and writing essays, or (2) after you've been accepted to it and are trying to determine if it is the best place for you to spend the next four years of your life. I did a little of both last year. This time of year, I assume most people coming to visit Oberlin fall into the second category--seniors who have been admitted coming to see where Oberlin fits on their shortlist of options--but my advice will work equally well for eager juniors trying to scope it out early. Campus visits are campus visits: the goal is always to get a feel for the school, to imagine yourself living here and how that would feel.
So how do you accomplish this? I've complied a list of the most important rules, drawn from my own experiences as a prospie at different colleges. Each rule builds on the others--you need to understand the previous ones to master the next one, and the final one is the most important. Fortunately, they aren't that difficult to follow.
1) Don't be shy. By all means take the tour and go to the information sessions--those are important so that you know the basics--but that is not a complete college visit. Get the information, read the student publications (The Review, The Grape, Spiral, Plum Creek Review, etc.), but spend most of your time interacting with people. Don't stick to talking with the admissions staff, wonderful though they are. Don't spend too much of your time with your parents, if they've come with you. Don't hover between aisles in the libraries or the bookstore, trying to eavesdrop on people without being noticed. I've been there, done that. You'll miss too much, because you won't be seeing the real life of the college. You have to strike out in some direction--it doesn't actually matter much where, at least at Oberlin, because there's so much going on--and dare to get involved.
2) Don't be shy. People here are generally very helpful and friendly! If you have a question, ask someone, whether it's talking to admissions staff about financial aid or finding out from one of the students where the dining halls are. (Free advice: Stevie--Stevenson Dining Hall--has a reputation for being better than Dascomb, and it's bigger.)
3) Don't be shy. Deciding what to do with yourself on this Very Important Campus Visit can be a little overwhelming. The Campus Visit Office will probably give you a list of major events or activities for the day, but if you don't like any of those, look at posters--they're all over the place here--or ask someone. You can go to concerts, lectures, movie screenings, plays, musicals, art shows--pretty much anything. Even better, your overnight host (if you're spending the night, which I would advise you to do if you can) or a random person you meet might invite you to some less formal gathering, like a hall game night. Take them up on it! You won't be seen as a nuisance. You aren't doing anything wrong. Showing interest is, in fact, doing everything right.
4) Don't be shy. Sit in on a class. Sit in on several. Small-ish classes are probably best, because the big (75-100 people) lecture classes are too big--and unusual--to give you a good feeling for the Oberlin vibe. There's a list somewhere of classes the professors have said they wouldn't mind prospies sitting in on. Pick your favorites and go to one or two of them. If the professor says it's okay and you think you know more or less what's going on, participate in the discussions. This is also a good way to see how you get along with Oberlin students. If they like what you're saying in class, or if you like what they're saying in class, or if they come up to talk with you afterward, hang out with them for a while. Ask them questions. Watch how they act with their friends, what they do for fun.
5) Don't be shy. Make a nuisance of yourself! This is what took me the longest to get over, but it's the most important thing to do. Walk up to groups of people--talking on the main floor of Mudd (the main library), eating lunch in the dining hall, playing Frisbee on Wilder Bowl, LARPing, whatever. Tell them you're a prospie and ask if you can eavesdrop/hang out/ask them a few questions. They will almost certainly say yes and ask you a few questions in return. Do this repeatedly. Just listening to different groups of people talk will give you a sense of all the different interests and attitudes that Obies have. Remember, you wouldn't be nervous if you were actually living here--so don't be nervous when you're trying it out. It might help to think of yourself as an anthropologist collecting data--that's what you're doing, after all, seeing if you can classify yourself as an Obie.
I cannot stress the importance of this last point enough. Oberlin was the second-to-last school I visited. It was probably my best prospie-ing experience and a big factor in why I decided to come. The point, though, is that if it hadn't been one of the last schools I visited, I might not have gotten as much out of it and I might have decided differently. It took me a while to realize that I needed to shake off my nervousness and assume more confidence, be more assertive. I was too shy to really plumb the possibilities at most of the other colleges I visited. (At Pomona, I somehow managed to sleep through the kidnapping and fountain-dunking of my hostess . . . but that's another story.)
If you're an introvert, like I am, you're just going to have to psych yourself up and try not to be--it's the best use of your time. Trust me on this. Be "Oberlin. fearless."