I hang out in the bookstore cafe a lot, writing, reading, just generally chilling out. My favorite spot, thus far, is the Barnes and Noble in Vernon Hills. The people who work there are awesome, and it’s a big B&N so there’s plenty of opportunity for one of my other favorite activities: people-watching. Or, in this case, people-listening.

Writers are, I think, natural eavesdroppers. It’s not intended maliciously, of course, but I think we’re just eternally curious and hearing snippets of lives going on around us is intriguing. We fill in the gaps with what we think the story should be, or at least I do.

In any case, the other day, in an effort to distract myself from the guy loudly clipping his fingernails (yes, seriously!) in the cafe (double gross) without any attempt to clean up after himself (gagging now), I was half-reading and half-listening to a conversation between a girl and her mom. Actually, it was a bit more one-sided than that. The girl had some kind of college guide and was reading descriptions, very amusing, tongue-in-cheek ones, of various colleges to her mother.

In that instant, I had a sudden flashback to those days of trying to pick my school out of the giant tome of possibilities. All of them sounded good on paper. Of course, they did. What self-respecting university PR person would send in “Eh. It’s okay as long as you don’t mind seeing the same 300 people over and over again”? Or, “Good luck meeting your professor. He’s the guy who never shows up for class”?

No, the true test of a college and whether it was right for you was the college visit day. And oh, can I tell you the sucky experiences I had?

Two school visits spring to mind in particular. The first, a small private school offered me a very good scholarship (as in, almost all my tuition paid) to be one of their “top scholars” on campus. Sounds good except…total campus population? 500. My high school? 800. It was terrifying exactly how tiny and incestous the place was. Everybody knew everyone and everything…people I’d never even met knew who I was and who I was staying with. I felt like I couldn’t breathe just on the visit weekend. The girls I was staying with also took great pains to tell me that they didn’t really have to study either. “It’s totally a party school.” Um, yeah, with the same 250 guys, assuming a 50/50 split between the genders, minus those who have girlfriends, are gay, are interested in your roommate, are not interested in you…which would leave, what, seven possible dating prospects?

And in fact, I suspected they were telling the truth about the studying thing. I didn’t see a single person with a book open the whole weekend–and trust me, I saw almost everyone on campus, literally–which made me feel really good about their “top scholar” offer. Eeesh.

Second, and this one was by far worse…I stayed with a friend I knew from church camp and her two roommates, whom I didn’t know prior to that visit. One of the roommates was locked in a drama with my friend and the other roommate, but no one seemed able to explain what had happened to cause this. The other roommate had her out of town boyfriend in town for the first time since leaving him in the summer.

During my visit, my church camp friend promptly got wasted and passed out in her bed. The angry roommate left in a huff to stay next door. And the third roommate and her boyfriend, despite having been given ample alone time earlier in the evening and refusing my offer to stay with the angry roommate next door, decided to have sex in the middle of the night while I attempted to sleep on the floor…three feet away. 😳

Yeah. After having attended college, this seems like small stuff (oh, the stories I could tell.) But as a high school senior trying to find a place where I thought I might belong…it was enough to make me run screaming in the other direction.

These were both incidents that could have happened on any college campus (if you could find another one equally small, in the case of the first example), and on another visit or a different weekend, it might have turned out differently. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I didn’t spend the night at any more colleges after that second visit, including the one I actually chose, Valparaiso University. Oddly enough, what convinced me there was simply the feeling I got when I walked onto campus. It felt like home. πŸ™‚

So, how about you…anybody else have college visit day horror stories? I’m sure mine are tame compared to others! πŸ˜€

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