Michelle Martin


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Frank and I spent time last week visiting two universities in another city.

It was a chance for us to spend a little time together before he starts his senior year of high school, as well as a chance to talk about what he’s looking for in a college, where he thinks he might want to go and what he wants to study.

We planned the trip mostly to visit one school, a school that’s well-known and carries a lot of prestige. He added the second visit just because we would be in the city anyway, so we might as well.

We went to the first school the day we arrived, and I have to say both of us were underwhelmed by the welcome we received. Or really, the welcome extended to everyone who attended that afternoon’s information session and tour.

When we arrived for the session, having already checked in online, no one asked Frank’s name. We just joined about 50 other people in a lecture hall. The admissions officer didn’t engage with the group at all — not to ask where students were from, or what they wanted to study, or why they were considering that university.

After the session, we trekked across campus for a tour — the group met in another building — that was led by two students, who also didn’t interact much. They did say anyone in the group was welcome to ask questions, but only while we were walking. They didn’t want us to get off schedule.

We both left kind of shaking our heads.

The next morning, we visited the second school. When we arrived, they asked Frank his name and what size T-shirt he wanted. When the presentation started, the woman leading it said each of the rising seniors had received a code to waive the fee if they decide to apply. At the end of the session, enough student tour guides came into the room for each of them to take two families — small enough groups for the guides to ask prospective students what they planned to study and what extracurriculars they might like, and then tailor the information to their interests. At the end of the tour, our guide offered his email address in case Frank had any more questions.

I’m not sure that Frank wanted to apply there before we visited; now he will. He will probably still apply to the first school, too, but he is less excited about the prospect of going there.

Hospitality matters. It mattered in the Book of Genesis, when Abraham welcomed the messengers of God. It mattered in the New Testament, when Mary and Martha welcomed Jesus to their home.

The first school delivered all the information you would expect from a college tour (a couple of my college classmates and I, all of whom have sons entering their senior year of high school, have been playing “college tour bingo”: does the school offer multiple styles of residence hall? Have a building that looks like Hogwarts? How about a Quidditch team?). But instead of making us feel welcome and wanted, it made us feel taken for granted.

The second school made us feel welcome, and that made a difference.


  • family life