Visitas Revisited

Prefrosh weekend should focus on showing Harvard, not selling it

With the onset of spring comes the onslaught of accepted student visiting programs at many major colleges and universities. Set against what is often a picture-perfect backdrop of turquoise skies and emerald green lawns, these programs often seem to assume the aesthetic of a summer camp, complete with sleeping bags, ice cream parties, and, a rosy, unaffected attitude towards the coming reality.

Harvard’s own program, “Visitas,” formerly known as the April Visiting Program, is one of these events whose mission appears to “sell” the school rather than to show it as it really is. As a result of this somewhat misdirected emphasis, prospective students often get a depiction of Harvard that is superficial and, frankly, deceptive. Although allowing time for students to experience Harvard’s social environment is important, the program should also include more substantial programming and greater interaction with current students into the schedule of events.

Rather than accomplishing its intended goal of providing accepted students with an accurate sense of the next four years, Visitas submits to the admissions arms race that has unfortunately taken hold of most competitive institutions. Sadly, this increased competition has led many colleges to avoid presenting their unique identities in order to secure the highest possible matriculation rate. As these programs illustrate, there seems less of a tendency for colleges and universities to emphasize their niche aspects and more of a tendency to emphasize items of general appeal. With academic institutions enticing admitted students with free merchandise and fun events rather than portraying the college experience accurately, we have to wonder whether these students are being set up for greater disappointment upon their arrival in the fall.

For instance, prominent events of this year’s Visitas include Prefrosh Palooza, Sunday Sundae, the Extracurriculars Fair, and, coinciding for the first time, Yard Fest. While these events certainly do a great deal to represent Harvard’s extracurricular and social environment, they leave little room for exploring academic opportunities or the more day-to-day aspects of campus life. Prospective students should spend more time getting to know the campus they may choose to call home by visiting classes and talking with current students about dorm and house life.

In turn, current Harvard students should fulfill their end of the obligation and make a greater attempt to interact with the admitted students. The Office of Admissions should not have to emphasize the low-maintenance aspect of the host’s job to convince current students to volunteer; students should realize the importance of hosting and volunteer on their own. A recent email the office released stressed that “hosting only requires a little bit of warmth and friendliness and some floor space!” In short, this should not be the pitch, and the fact that current students can request to host up to six admitted students indicates a serious lack of quality control on the part of the administration.

Additionally, admits should have the chance to meet faculty members. We begrudgingly applaud Yale’s Bulldog Days for providing admitted students with the opportunity to take master classes with professors. The initiative shows a true desire to immerse students in the academic atmosphere of a place and allow them see if the fit is right for them. Perhaps recent arguments against Harvard’s lack of substantive student-faculty relationships might be curbed by an earlier opportunity for such interactions to take place.

In the grand scheme of things, Harvard attracts so many bright, qualified students on a yearly basis that an emphasis on “selling” the experience is not necessary. The College has more to lose by misrepresenting its image than by losing students who might have been lackadaisical about attending in the first place. Although great emphasis and energy should be placed in attracting applicants to Harvard, this effort should not be purposefully insincere or misleading.

To the future Class of 2015, we wish you the best of luck in making your final college decisions and hope that you when you visit college campuses in the coming weeks you distinguish between the real and the simulated.

Oh, and another thing to keep in mind: Don’t pick Yale.

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