When I was choosing colleges five years ago, I consciously decided not to attend Princeton Preview. I had both the free time and the means to attend, and I needed to learn more about Princeton as I was still very much debating which college to attend. I was the perfect candidate to attend, but I opted out because I didn’t believe that Preview could give me the experience I needed to make the right college decision. I wanted to get the best information I could get: a real sense of what my four years would be like. And to me, that sense cannot be gained by attending Princeton Preview or equivalent events at other colleges.
Princeton Preview and similar events geared towards prospective students - such as college tours and admission sessions - are intended to persuade high school students that they want to apply and come to Princeton, or whatever the host school is. That’s understandable. But, given that goal, universities plan these events to portray the institution in the best light possible. Days are packed with back-to-back events intended to show prospective students just how fun, exciting, and interesting Princeton is and how much it has to offer. Although seeing a college at its best is useful, it is also misleading. Students should learn about regular life at Princeton before making their decision about which college to attend. Experiencing a typical day, as opposed to a Preview day, is incredibly important, because it is much more representative of what life will actually be like over the next four years.
I had an older sister who applied to colleges before me, so I had the foresight to put Preview into context. I knew that Preview wouldn’t give sufficient insight to help an indecisive 18-year-old me make my college decision. So instead of Preview, I chose to seek out an experience of a typical day at college. I visited my potential schools on regular days, when they weren’t expecting admitted students. I stayed with students I knew from my high school, attended classes with them, and went to their extracurricular activities. Often, if they didn’t share my interests, they happily pointed me to their friends who did. When they studied, I did my high school homework.
My friends would typically try to show and tell me all the amazing things about the school. For example, at Princeton I was taken to Murray-Dodge Hall for cookies, which honestly may have been what sealed the deal. Yet I also got an authentic sense of what college life is actually like at Princeton and other schools, experiencing both the pros and the cons. I don’t think that Preview allows for this, as students are shuffled from event to event and spend more time with other unaware prospective students than with current students.
I believe that the University has a moral responsibility to portray itself honestly to prospective students, so that they can make the best choice for their own lives. The University should aim for what is best for prospective students, not for itself. However, I also understand why universities don’t choose to offer individual visits to everyone. Schools have an interest in achieving high application and yield rates, so they want to paint the college in the best light, albeit not the most accurate. Individual visits would also be a logistical and financial nightmare. Consequently, many schools will only pay for students to travel to the official event.
I was fortunate enough to live on the East Coast and largely be looking at schools that were fairly nearby and thus could coordinate and pay for my own transportation. I also had peers at many of the schools I was looking at who could host me. Some schools organize individual visits and arrange hosts, but not all do, so if you do not know someone, it can be hard to access the campus.
In the face of these difficulties, having one coordinated Preview is certainly better than having no opportunity to visit at all. Preview does offer the benefit of meeting potential classmates, which is only possible at events where many prospective students gather on campus at one time. But meeting other students is not as important as seeing what a typical day is like on campus. At college, friendships are not so class-centric, nor do I think classes differ greatly, so prospective students can get a general sense of what their future peers may be like just by meeting current students on a regular day.
In the end, for those who can organize an alternative visit, I would highly recommend doing so. Preview is certainly better than nothing, but experiencing Princeton in all its glory and its grime on a regular day is invaluable. I’d be happy to host, although I’ll be graduating this spring! But I am sure other students would be just as willing.
Marni Morse is a politics major from Washington, D.C. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.