Computational Complexity: The College Visits

My wife’s cousin and her daughter came and visited Chicago. The daughter, between junior and senior year of high school, is on the tail end of college tour season and visited Northwestern and University of Chicago while here. She’s visited a dozen plus schools at this point.

As an academic and administrator I think of universities in terms of the faculty who are there, their academic strengths and reputation and sometimes the internal and external politics (people like to talk). All academic departments and universities have issues, in their own unique ways.

The visiting prospective students get a thoroughly different view: A tour highlighting the architecture and amenities, giving cherry-picked statistics that puts the school in its best light. The impressions students get have little to do with the quality of the education and can get affected by the personality of the tour guide or even the weather the day of the visit.

The daughter is interested in computer science but the Northwestern tour focused on South campus, the more artsy part of the university where she wouldn’t be spending much of her days. Her favorite school, which I won’t name, has by far the weakest CS program of the ones she has visited. But it seems those first impressions are also the lasting ones.

If you are a high school student take the tour but don’t let that be your only impression. Track down the places on campus that matter to you, whether a department, college or extra-curricula and talk to the people there, particularly the students. Understand the parts of the university that matter to you, not just the ones that they put on display. 

Or perhaps avoid the campus visits entirely. You’ll probably make a better choice if you aren’t distracted by the size of the spires. 

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