The following article was written in response to The Choice blog post “Did a College You Visited Liken Itself to Hogwarts?”. While reading this short blog first would give you some context for the following, the real meat is in its comments. Among which is an opinion from a parent who says, “As a veteran of three kids’ visits (to probably a dozen schools each), campus group info sessions and tours are numbingly repetitive and basically public relations from the admissions office…telling the student exactly what the office want them to hear…and yet rarely let on how one school is different from its peers.”

I’ll admit it. We don’t have a single building that looks like Hogwarts. It’s just not our style. Most folks would say that we have a very attractive campus with new buildings that blend in beautifully with our historic buildings but we still don’t look a thing like Hogwarts. I am not even sure we have a Harry Potter look-alike in the student body, and I have never seen quiditch played on campus.

One of the critiques from the essay in question relates to how colleges all sound the same. We all have tours and group information sessions, campus dining halls, a cappella choirs, great professors and labs, small classes, personal attention, study abroad programs and more. The armchair college administrators tell us that we should distinguish ourselves from each other much better than we do.

From my perspective, most students and parents want to know that we have these things. They are going through a mental checklist that changes depending where they are in the process. They want to make sure they can study abroad at Centre, have small classes with supportive faculty and play intramural sports. So we tell them.

When I hear such criticism of colleges, it reminds me of those who have come to depend on the 24/7 instant news cycle where everything is important at once. These families want to know instantly how Centre is similar to and different from Kenyon and Rhodes. My friends and colleagues at Kenyon and Rhodes will undoubtedly agree with me when I say it just isn’t that simple. Like Kenyon and Rhodes, Centre has small classes, great professors, competitive sports teams at the Division III level, and study abroad opportunities. Our locations and settings are different. Rhodes and Kenyon are a bit bigger than Centre. Kenyon pulls more students from the North, Rhodes from the Southwest and Centre from the South. When you figure out how to rank college faculties, please let me know. They are different between the three schools. All are very good. Each has its unique personality, aspects and emphases.

All of the colleges offer many similar programs, majors, facilities and services. In that way, many colleges look very much the same. The question is one of emphasis. While we tend to have many of the same offerings, they vary in personality, depth and emphasis. It is the student’s job to sift through as much information as they can to glean what is most important to him or her. Learning about a college is like making a new friend. True friendship takes time and effort. The college search process takes time and reflection. Find the time. Do the reflection.

Vice President for Enrollment and Student Planning Services Carey is a veteran of 23 years in college admissions. Before coming to Centre in 1998, Thompson was director of admission at Furman University. He has been a leader in professional organizations, including the Southern Association of College Admissions Counselors. He chaired the Southern Consortium of Colleges and Universities 1994-96 and was a member of the Southern Regional College Board Council 1992-95. Thompson holds a bachelor’s degree from Furman and a master’s degree from Vanderbilt University. E-mail: carey.thompson@centre.edu
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