A couple of weeks ago my family was in town so my sister, who is a junior in high school, could tour Duke. When I was looking at colleges I went on a plethora of campus tours, but oddly enough I never went on the official Duke tour. The only time I had been to campus before arriving this fall was for an event for kids of alumni where we were given an abridged tour. So I thought it would be fun to tag along with my family and see how the information given on the tour compared to my experiences after nearly one year at Duke.
We arrived at the admissions building bright and early on a Saturday morning. After receiving our Duke visitor stickers, which we were informed we could use to get a free fountain drink at the Bryan Center McDonald’s (what a deal!), we were ushered into a room that bared a striking resemblance to an airport Marriott conference room. I sat down behind a little kid who had foolishly dropped a handful of Pixy Stix behind his seat. I passed the time waiting for the information session to begin by watching this boy struggle to retrieve the Pixy Stix as his mother chastised him for making a scene.
Then, out of nowhere, a video began to play. One might think that Duke would choose a few words from President Brodhead or a highlight of campus life as the opening video for their info sessions, but instead they went with an a cappella group singing an original song to the tune of “My Favorite Things” about why they love the new student health building. I haven’t cringed so hard on a college tour since I first saw the musical atrocity that is “That’s Why I Chose Yale.”
After playing a few more videos (luckily much better than the first one), an admissions officer took the stage. She introduced herself as the representative for the Southern California region, meaning in all likelihood she was the person who made the mistake of letting me in here.
The info session itself was pretty standard. As my sister lovingly put it: “It’s the same s**t at every school.” A good student to faculty ratio? Wow! An engaged, interesting, and diverse student body? Gollie! Need-blind admissions? Sign me the f**k up!
I’m giving Duke a hard time, but in all honesty I thought the information session did a good job of showing off Duke to those who don’t know it as well as I do. As far as my experience with college information sessions goes, this one was succinct, to the point and not annoyingly enthusiastic while still presenting Duke in an accurate and exciting light.
That said, being the pessimist I am I have a few things I took issue with. First, I found it funny how in the virtual tour the central campus slide was conveniently missing. Second, at one point the admissions officer made the claim that students aren’t cutthroat or competitive. I thought that was somewhat of an overgeneralization. Sure, most people are nice here and want the best for others, but like anywhere else in the world Duke also has its fair share of dicks. And while the curriculum as a whole doesn’t breed a competitive culture, certain classes do. I would be lying if I said that last semester in Math 111 I wasn’t hoping that everyone else in my class would do poorly on the midterms to make the curve more favorable for me.
Finally, and this one bothers me the most, the admission officer made the bold claim that I’ve been hearing this entire year: “Duke is ranked number 1 in food.” This is not false, technically the website The Daily Meal said Duke has the best food in the country. But have you ever heard of The Daily Meal? I didn’t think so. The Daily Meal claiming Duke has the best food is just as credible as my friend Charlie claiming Wreck-it Ralph is the greatest movie of all time. What sucks about this is Duke actually does have really good food, I tell people that all the time. When students walk through West Union they see that it’s awesome, so why do we need to also tout some made-up award?
After the information sessions ended, we broke into groups and went out on the tours. Nothing on the tour stood out to me as egregiously false, but as my sister pointed out afterwards: "Every school claims to be unique and then says the same thing I’ve heard on every other tour." I remember at the end of my college tours being sick and tired of hearing about how the campus looks like Hogwarts or how the library has tons of books or how the students "work hard and play hard."
While it gets annoying, I don’t fault the tour guides for saying these things. The alternative to being perhaps a little bit over enthusiastic about things that most other schools offer is to be jaded and cynical, and that would just paint the school in a bad light. You have to hype up everything your school has to offer because every other school is doing it. It should also be noted that perhaps my sister and I are taking for granted the fact that all the schools we looked at were top-notch universities, so while certain features may seem redundant within a given circle of schools, in the grand scheme they are in fact pretty special.
At the end of the day, most students will pick a school based on a gut decision, a personal connection, or the name and reputation. The best a tour can do is leave a solid impression on perspective students. So while the tour could do without cringe-worthy student health videos and bulls**t food awards, what really matters is that the tour guides and admissions officers alike can convey how much they really love this amazing school.
Sami Kirkpatrick is a Trinity freshman. His column, "the new duker" runs on alternate Thursday.