College rankings, such as those published this week by Princeton Review, always generate media buzz and factor heavily into students' decisions ("Do I really want to go to one of the top 20 party schools?"). However, rankings are not everything, nor is cost (even in a recession), and in your college search, you may find that many colleges offer things that can't be easily quantified.
Rising high school seniors returning from their first round of campus visits and newly admitted undergraduate students who have gone through orientation and registration have likely experienced some of this. In addition to offering good financial aid, academic programs, extracurricular activities, and dorm food, the best colleges will also entice students to imagine themselves living on campus and being a part of the culture there. While prestige is certainly nice, your college experience will be enriched by feeling as though you are engaged with those around you and like you really belong to the campus community.
How colleges try to create this impression varies greatly. I've seen tongue-in-cheek Facebook groups for several colleges, including my alma mater, declaring students' decisions to enroll were based on receiving a free t-shirt, but gestures like this can make a difference. The small liberal arts college my sister ultimately chose to attend offered a package of cookies from the local cookie factory to students who took a campus tour, which we happily munched on while driving home from an impressive campus visit. The most interesting college freebie I've heard of comes from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, which sends each incoming freshman a box of Walla Walla onions. That definitely makes a unique impression!
This has us wondering: Have you received anything cool from a college you've visited or chosen to attend? What unconventional things have caught your attention during the process of choosing a college?
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