Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

My first thought: What am I doing here? It’s 34 degrees out.

Sitting in the lobby of Northwestern’s newly constructed visitors’ center, I watched a student ambassador approach me, and I felt something that I hadn’t felt in a while: butterflies.

I remember my first college tour my junior year of high school and getting jitters just from the thought of having to speak to a college student. It was as if the impression I made on them would affect whether or not I would be accepted.

This time, however, should have been different. As the student in her immaculately ironed button down approached me, the queasy feeling in my stomach clearly said otherwise.

As a freshman at Northwestern about to wrap up my first quarter, I’ve assimilated myself into the campus culture pretty well. However, during the college apps process, I had gone on at least a dozen college tours, yet I had never toured my own school, so here I was on this chilly Saturday morning.

I felt a bit out of place, now sitting in the purpled out auditorium, reflecting the purple pride that we, as Northwestern students, have come to value so dearly. Around me, high school seniors sat with their parents and their siblings, chatting away about how much they loved Northwestern. I couldn’t believe that had been me, just a year ago.

As a graduate and undergraduate student led the information session, I realized how repetitive everything was. If you’ve been to one information session, you’ve basically been to them all. We offer a liberal arts background, and our core curriculum doesn’t restrict our students is just one of the phrases that were being tossed around.

A perk of Northwestern that is heavily advertised, including in the session, is the accessibility of nearby Chicago via shuttle or public transportation. Having been here for a quarter, I was slightly bothered by this promotion, since I’ve found it to be much harder than I had originally realized to get into the city whenever I wanted to.

During my college search, I remember sitting in information sessions, transfixed by the simple fact that I was at an amazing college. Everything that was said I took as fact. Although there weren’t any lies in the presentation, it felt as if the admissions department quickly glossed over the imperfections. The most glaring observation was when the presenter avoided mentioning loans during a brief rundown of the financial aid process. I don’t blame him, though. These information sessions are to make you fall more in love with the school, not present issues that might prevent you from applying. I was genuinely surprised, however, when I didn’t hear the key buzz phrase that schools of Northwestern’s caliber like to throw around, the fact that they meet 100% of demonstrated need.

After the information session, everyone was quickly escorted out of the room and divvied up into three groups. An unexpected wave of nostalgia hit me during the tour. The endearingly awkward backward-walking tour guides were too much for me to handle.

What made the tour stand out (and this two-plus hour experiment worth it) were the quirky traditions and stories unique to Northwestern. As a student, I had learned some on my own, but some of the stories are not things that just come up in conversations around campus. I had no idea one of the buildings on campus was funded by the owners of Kmart and in the shape of a one to commemorate the fact that Kmart was the number one department store at the time (like, what?!).

Another thing that I never realized is how similar everything is between all the colleges I had visited. What are the odds of every school having a Blue Light safety system where in the past a tour guide had pressed it to demonstrate that it worked? (Hint: apparently, those odds are pretty high!)

The last thing that got my attention was the sanitization of the information presented. It makes sense; parents don’t need to know about the college life shenanigans that go on, but I thought it was interesting. Northwestern, like many schools, offers a nighttime ride service that is offered for students’ safety. The tour guide spoke about using it to get back to his dorm after spending the library at 3 a.m. Maybe he’s the exception, but the only times I’ve heard of people using it are when they’re coming back from late-night drunk escapades.

By the end of the tour, the weather had gone up to 37 degrees, which, I must admit, was quite nice. In fact, after a quarter here, I’ve realized that the threat of the weather is really all relative. These days, I judge whether it’s cold or not by seeing if the weather is above or below 32 degrees. Coming from a place where the lowest temperature in the winter would be in the mid 60s, I was definitely surprised at how quickly I had acclimated to the weather.

Before the tour guides left, they answered the one question that marks the end of admissions tours at college campuses across the country: why did I choose to come here? That question was fodder for first-week-of-school awkward conversation small talk, so I hadn’t really thought about it since. Although getting up and braving the cold for a 9:30 a.m. information session and tour was a bit depressing, the tour guides’ responses to the question reminded me of why I had chosen to come to Northwestern.

Although I had never gone on a tour of Northwestern as a prospie, I must say I learned a lot and renewed my appreciation for being at such a fantastic institution. It may not be perfect, but it comes pretty close.

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the author

Benjamin Din is a student at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where he is studying journalism and the mathematical methods in the social sciences (what does that even mean?). When he's not writing for The Prospect, he can be found on Twitter as he tries to build his social media presence. For more information, check out his website.

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