It turns out I wound up at a good college for me, but there was nothing about my so-called “search” 23 years ago that would have ensured that. I applied early to and was rejected from a school I chose mainly because my boyfriend went there. Later, in the midst of a lengthy stretch of college visits, I was struck by how the tour guide at one school, which I knew of only because my best friend’s dad had gone there, received a never-ending stream of enthusiastic hellos. Everyone on campus genuinely seemed to be her friend, despite a look that would have belonged only to outcasts in my high school: chubby, awkward, ringlets, which turned out to be an East Coast hallmark unknown to me and my Jewish, Midwestern peers; all of us still brushed our curls into frizz.
That the ease of a nerdy tour guide sold me on what now is my alma mater supports what we basically all know: Teenagers with the means to actually have a choice tend to pick colleges more on a vibe than anything else. What we didn’t know, but now do, thanks to Eric Hoover’s piece in the new college issue of Washington Monthly: Colleges these days are taking a page from marketers in order to manufacture that vibe.
This Washington Monthly is a can’t-miss issue. Check out Erin Carlyle on a trade school that trains students for trades that haven’t been invented yet, Kevin Carey on a new public college that has created an innovative—and cheap!—way to educate future doctors, Daniel Luzier on the pursuit of trophy educations and especially (if you can stand a depressive funk clouding your next hour) Ben Miller and Phuong Ly on the travesty of schools that utterly fail to graduate their students.