“Road Rules”

Last week I was on the road, my second recruiting trip in the last three weeks.  With my new I-phone and its awesome map app in hand, I logged over 700 miles as my rental car meandered up and down the highways and back roads of Fairfield County, Connecticut.  My quest: I was searching for Tufts’ Class of 2014.  Think Simon Cowell (I’m nicer) and the American Idol judges as they traipse across the country during their annual audition circuit: another day, another city, more singers (seniors) to meet (although no one gets cut when I come to town).

 I visited 12 high schools in two days and 21 over a four-day window.  (I slept really well each night…) I met more than 300 students, mostly seniors in the last leg of the college search but a fair share of juniors popped up as well, early birds getting ready for the journey ahead.

I got lost twice.  I discovered 103.5FM from New York City and “Evacuate the Dance Floor” by Cascada emerged as the anthem of my travel season.  I shook dozens of hands (and bathed myself in Purell because good hygiene is important this year).  CLIF bars powered me through a few itineraries that seemed realistic when I scheduled the appointments but, silly me, I forgot to schedule a time to each lunch… (One day I went five-hours without a pit stop… Do the math.)  As always, my trek through Fairfield County reinforced my deep appreciation for teachers and their ability to offer five periods of lessons each day as well as traveling salespeople who work out of a car. 

In college admissions, “fall” and “travel” are synonymous.  It’s what we do. It’s one of our “seasons.” We hit the road. We disappear from our campuses, say farewell to loved ones, and spread the word. This week, for example, Tufts admission officers are visiting schools in Atlanta, Orange County, Toronto, Baltimore, Hartford, London, Detroit, Phoenix, Miami and Chicago. One is making her way through Bulgaria (Tufts’ first-ever visit!) and Turkey.  That’s a lot of frequent flier miles for a staff of 20 but it’s a key part of the cycle we coordinate: we travel to points near and far to talk about Tufts.  We are road runners, quite literally. 

School visits are our chance to connect (and reconnect) with kids.  Ideally, my stop in the Career Center or guidance office is a chance to make a closing argument, a final opportunity to amplify the ideas and ideals of Tufts to students who have done their homework, visited campus and are mulling their options as the deadline inches closer.  And, sometimes, I introduce the place to students who recently discovered Tufts as an option.  Either way, it’s a valuable opportunity to put a name with a face.  When I read applications from these schools (at Tufts, we travel where we read) it helps me remember the person behind the paper.  Personalities emerged.  I know who they are.  I’m human; I remember.

School visits give travelling admission officers a chance to strengthen our understanding of local factors (perhaps a high school dropped its AP curriculum due to budget cuts, for example), to renew partnerships with guidance and college counselors, and to see an applicant where she lives.  I experienced some lovely campuses and passed through metal detectors on my way into a few schools; those impressions add context to the way I recruit and the way I read. 

And maybe most importantly, school visits are a chance to talk with kids without any adult supervision (guidance counselors notwithstanding), an unfiltered conversation that puts students and their interests or concerns at center stage.  I’ll drive 700 miles to do that.

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