Saturday, April 9, 2011

Choosing a college

UVa is considered one of the most beautiful campuses in the US. Also consider that it is a World UNESCO Heritage site and BAM! you have a beautiful, well-manicured "Lawn" with flower trees everywhere. There are trees, flowers, cute squirrels, homogeneous brick architecture, ponds, and groomed grass. As you can see by these photographs, there is something that invites the tourist to take a massive amount of photographs. UVA is aware of it as well. Just check our Week in Photos if you don't believe me that we are one narcissistic, proud hell "uva" school. Around this time of the year, there will be at least one photograph of flowers or flower trees. So if you visit UVA on a sunny clear day, you will fall in love.

However, if you are on a day like today, where it is cold and misting, then you might be turned off by it. Yes, I am talking to you--- prospective young one who is deciding which school to attend. Like you I visited schools, and the skies help the schools that I visited when it was raining. I was snarky to the guides, ungracious to the current students, and deemed a hazard to any staircase that dared to trip me.

Amherst is one memorable example. With its 1960's concrete buildings, Amherst's architecture is the antithesis of UVa's colonial brick architecture. Unlike its neighboring New England colleges, Amherst does not have the ivy-covered brick buildings, but buildings made of what was then cutting edge material: concrete. While Kirin Makker would argue that the 1960s modernist buildings represent a heroic building practice, aesthetic risks, and a confident embrace of current technologies, what concrete doesn't do on a clear, sunny day it definitely does not do on a rainy, cloudy day. Plus it smells.

In short, I hated Amherst and wanted to get away from that bloody town. I hated how it made me feel like I was a cog in a machine, an unmarked slab of concrete, and a lost high school senior in the midst of college applications. I did not even apply.

On the other hand, UVa shined the minute the sun stepped away from the clouds. After a 7 hour drive from New York, I was ready to stretch my legs and the cloudless skies allowed me to do so to my heart's content. It was beautiful and it felt right. My decision was sealed with a bite of my first Five Guy's Burger.

I never critically thought about why it was so beautiful and why it felt right until now. After reading Kirin Makker's article, I realized that in my senior year, I was looking for a traditional look of a college campus. UVa looked the part of an American college (which is appropriate, considering that Thomas Jefferson was so purposeful in his architecture that he created a new aesthetic for university architecture). I was lost in knowing what I wanted in college, which is fine, but then instead of critically thinking about it, I relied on a stereotype of what college was.

In an essence, there is a powerful myth about college perpetuated by popular media, teachers, and marketing campaigns by the universities themselves. It would be a term paper to dissect this myth and the different ways that it affects college choice. (One quick example would be the powerful myth of what Harvard is and then what it actually is.)

UVa also relies on this myth in your head. Whatever the myth may be to you, be aware of it and really do think critically of why college is the right decision for you and why UVa is the right academic decision for you.

Best of luck!