It was a college road trip on steroids: when I was a high school junior, my parents and I visited 12 college campuses in less than two weeks. The three of us were in a car together for hours at a time driving up and down the East Coast, spreadsheets and check lists in hand, tempers slightly less in hand, Time reports.
But that trip wasn’t just a symbolic ritual. Which applications I filled out the following fall were largely determined by what I saw during those two weeks.
Choosing a college might seem like the most calculated, data-driven decision you make, but take a few tours and you realize it can be as much about instinct as anything else. The weather, what the tour guide is wearing, the mood of students in a dining hall and everything else you can’t put in a list of pros and cons can change your mind.
I crossed one school off my list simply because of a comment from the tour guide who said it got so cold one winter that he spent an entire month walking indoors through tunnels from his dorm to class, never venturing outside. A college that had been low on my list wooed me with a handsome, smart, future Rhodes Scholar tour guide.
I visited the school I eventually attended on a rainy day and deemed it too depressing a place to spend four years. I went back on a sunny day and after coffee with a current student, I changed my mind and applied there early.
… Would I have traded those two intense weeks for a remote video tour of a school? Nope. But if Google has anything to say about it, mine might be the last generation to think that this American rite of passage is essential.