Whilst doing my laundry last Thursday, I listened to a TED talk by author Malcolm Gladwell. The lecture he gave was about spaghetti sauce and, naturally, my thoughts went straight to the process of choosing a college.
Now, if you want to watch the video (which is very funny and enlightening) for yourself, it is available here:http://www.ted.com/talks/malcolm_gladwell_on_spaghetti_sauce But if not, I’ll give you a brief summary- in this speech Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of Howard Moskovitz a scientist hired by the Campbell’s company to help them design the perfect formula for spaghetti sauce.
In his quest, Moskovitz started out by surveying people about what they wanted in a spaghetti sauce. Overwhelmingly, the responses were in favor of a smooth, creamy sauce, but when this formula was put to use in practice, the success rate of the sauce was still below that of competitors.
Frustrated, Mostovitz switched tactics, instead of asking subjects to describe the ideal spaghetti sauce, he designed a wide variety of different sauces, which he then asked subjects to sample and choose their favorite. Using this method of study, a surprising conclusion was revealed- about a third of the people preferred creamy spaghetti sauce, about a third preferred spicy, and about a third preferred chunky. Campbell’s released a chunky variety of sauce later that year, in addition to their regular, and sales skyrocketed.
So what does this tell us?
There is no one spaghetti sauce that is perfect for everyone. Similarly, there is no one college that is perfect for everyone. Different people look for different flavors in their pasta toppings, and different people need different things from their college experience. It’s important to realize that what you’re looking for in a college might be different from the needs and desires of every one of your friends- and that’s totally okay.
But like the subjects in Moskovitz’s study, you won’t know what it is you really want until you can experience the difference for yourself. Therefore, it’s important to use your senior year of high school as a time to pile your plate high with college options and give ‘em a taste test.
I didn’t know that a large campus environment would probably leave me perpetually lost and frustrated until I spent a few tours of large campuses lost and frustrated. I didn’t know that a college in a small town wasn’t for me until I visited colleges in small towns. I didn’t know that Transylvania had a close, familial atmosphere that I absolutely adored until I had a wonderful experience with my overnight here.
My advice is to start visiting early, and to see as much variety as you can. Explore not only college campuses, but the communities which surround them (for example, after a visit to Transy you could pop by the Lexington Theater to catch a cool vintage movie). Sitting in on classes is another great way to get the most out of your visit- I didn’t know that I loved the Transylvania history department until I sat in on one of Dr. Slepyan’s lectures. And, of course, ask questions- admissions staff, faculty, and current students will all provide valuable sources of information about aspects of college life that you may have never even before considered.
If you do this, you’re bound to soon find your own, personal, perfect flavor of college spaghetti sauce.