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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Touring Campus as a Graduating Senior

Published: March 16, 2012
Section: Opinions

I first toured Brandeis in the fall of 2006. It was about time to take the tour again.

But there’s no doubt about it: Touring campus was far more rewarding the second time.

This time I was prepared. I’d sat in on a few too many classes, met some nice professors and stayed overnight in a real Brandeis dorm.

Taking the tour was just a formality. A chance to validate what I knew about the school, to see “college students in their natural habitat,” in the words of one hard working student who apparently doesn’t understand library acoustics.

I thought it would be best not to ask too many questions, although I certainly wanted to. “How does campus food compare with other schools you’ve visited?” “Does everyone get their first choice of housing?” “How much does it cost to ride the commuter rail?” “When you say that the campus shuttle comes every 15 to 30 minutes, does that mean it isn’t actually on a schedule?” “Have you ever been unable to enroll in a course?” “What does the Castle look like on the inside?” And so on.

But then everyone else’s questions came, and I knew I was out of my league. A father raised his hand and asked how many students attend the school. A mother asked, “This isn’t obviously a sports school, is it?” Another inquired about the student-faculty ratio. (If someone told you 7:1, 8:1 or 9:1, forget the math, would you even know what that meant in terms of the value of a Brandeis education?)

Lesson #1: Before visiting a college, do your homework. Asking questions is useful only to a point; learning how students react to questions and the ways in which they respond is far more telling.

Despite the lackluster crowd, the guides were compelling, expert storytellers. We heard about the Cheese Club, about specific trips into Boston and about surviving forced-triple accommodations.

The guides used anecdotes to make larger points. In addressing the connection between students and professors they discussed the take your professor to lunch program, eliciting nods of approval from parents. In explaining social justice, they cited the high participation rate of the Waltham Group.

Participants were attentive and focused. The tour avoided Rabb Steps, so no one was out of breath, even though the tour lasted almost an hour and a half.

What a difference a careful, considered tour makes.

Here’s what I remember from five years ago: an overly enthusiastic college student stumbling backward up Brandeis hill trying to persuade me to attend. She didn’t help her case when she led us through Shapiro dorms. That’s when I knew I didn’t want to go to Brandeis.

All these years later, looking back, I still can’t figure out how the Brandeis I visited is the same school I attend. There’s a real difference and the tour reflects it. In 2006, I visited Shapiro dorms and now the tour visits the newly renovated Usen. Back then, there was no Mandel Center, no Shapiro Science Center and no Shapiro Admissions building. The old Ridgewood still stood, waiting to be demolished.

But I’ve also changed, and I would be remiss to forget that fact. Brandeis no longer looks as colorless, because as I followed the tour group, I didn’t just see old brick buildings, I saw people I knew. As we passed by offices and discussed experiential learning and study abroad opportunities, I had my own experiences to which I could relate. When we walked through Usen dorm, I didn’t see a messy college dorm, I saw just another busy day when cleaning up and doing the laundry just isn’t at the top of the to-do list. Perspectives really do change.

Since 2006, I’d never before traversed the campus so slowly. Our tour guides kept a decent pace, but still, they stopped every so often to discuss a new topic or share a story from their campus experiences. As they did so, I had a chance to look around, to see the campus from a different perspective, the perspective of a prospective student.

I liked what I saw. Sure, our tour guides didn’t take us through East or show us the food prices in Usdan or explain the Rose saga. We never heard about last month’s arrested professor or last year’s Waltham triple homicide. But every school has its positives and negatives. Brandeis is making a real attempt to define itself, independent of peer institutions.

A key example is the new admissions website unveiled this week—which incidentally replaces the old one that was around back in 2006. The site finally presents Brandeis to the world in a manner that the school deserves. The website complements the school’s new buildings and new leadership and will no doubt help attract students who might otherwise have misunderstood the core mission of the university.

That’s what Brandeis needs to continue to do: explore new ways to sell itself because, as I was reminded this week, Brandeis really does have much to offer.

And thankfully, with the tour behind me, I now know where on campus I can find what I’m looking for.