So, here are some thoughts I had about my experience two weeks ago, driving around the NYC-area and taking college tours with a couple of prospective students.
If the guy giving the pre-tour talk sounds really defensive, it does not bode well for the school. Don't say that the school has gotten away from the image of it being mostly a commuter school, when you then tell us (after being asked directly) that 40% of the student body goes home on weekends.
Sometimes stereotypes are true. You might think that college can't really be full of Jewish-American Princesses as you heard, and jeez does that ethnically-insensitive stereotype actual exist anymore?, BUT OH YES IT CAN and DOES. For some reason those ladies (overly groomed, love shopping, have nasal, Long-Island-tinged accent) don't live where I live now, so I had forgotten they existed. It was like coming home.
The beauty of the campus is not a good indicator of the quality of the school. Same goes for the food in the cafeteria. If that's what your tour guide loves most about her school, run away.
When asking your student tour guide about a school's visual art facilities, it is a very bad sign to get a answer like "I took a drawing class last year for fun, and it was great!" Also very bad: Classes generically named, like "ART 1."
I have no idea what publication or judging body declared Wagner College as having the most beautiful campus in the country, but they must have been smoking some serious crack.
Feel free to bail in the middle of a tour if you already know you have no interest in going there. We did this at Hofstra and, to some extent, Wagner.
I've got to tell you the story of our Wagner visit. Though it was raining and cold, we started off so hopeful about it, but then the tour started badly, and just got worse and worse. The woman leading the tour grew up on Staten Island (where Wagner is located) and loved it. She loves it still! Staten Island is the best because it is close to the city but it has grass and trees and suburbs, yay! Never mind the huge landfills, nasty traffic, and the lack of any there, there. We have lawns, people! And cars!
Luckily for everyone, also on our tour was a baby-faced boy who wants to go into business, accompanied by his starry-eyed mom. They were from Columbine, Colorado. They had not ever been to New York City before, but were staying in Manhattan. When I asked the guide how easy it was to get to the city (if there were college shuttles to the train station, for example) the boy took the opportunity to ask the guide, "So, when you're looking at the subway map, uptown is always up? And downtown is down? Because we are having a tough time figuring out where we're going." And as the tour stretched past the one-hour mark while we were exploring the dismal trash-strewn Freshman dorm, the mom saw the view of Manhattan from the top floor window and excitedly asked the guide, "Wow, what are we looking at, exactly??" As the guide pointed out the various bridges and buildings, one of my girls turned away in disgust and said softly "who cares!" which cracked me up. After well over an hour or trudging through the raw wetness, the Colorado duo wanted to see the gym, which the guide had omitted from the tour because it was too out of the way. I saved us by saying "uh, we have to go, we have another appointment" and we booked the hell back to our car.
It wasn't all crappiness. We all loved Sarah Lawrence. I don't know why I didn't consider it when I was looking for schools 15 years ago (me=old). SUNY Purchase, despite having the concrete-slab architecture I became familiar with at my expensive private college, seems like a really great place to go for arts majors. Eugene Lang, one of the four schools I applied to, also got high marks. So there was progress. And there was fun food times, and a short shopping adventure. High grades, mostly.