Burger King, Viewbooks, and the Campus Visit

We’ve all had the experience.  It’s 5:30 p.m.  You’ve had a long, hard day at work.  You’ve gotten home and turned on the television.  It’s a Burger King ad.  And the burger is beautiful.  Perfection.  The lettuce and tomato are from God’s own garden.  The sesame seeds on the bun have clearly been individually placed with the utmost care.  There’s just a hint of steam rising, making it obvious that the burger is neither too hot nor too cold.  You can’t resist, so you run out to your nearest Burger King and order your burger.  When you get it, it’s smooshed, the lettuce is wilted, the tomato is definitely from a garden other than God’s, the bun is mangled, and it looks nothing like what you saw in the commercial.  Now, in all fairness, you may still love it.  It tastes great and totally hits the spot, and you are absolutely satisfied.  But it’s not quite like the picture.

 College viewbooks are like the Burger King ad.  Every campus is beautiful.  The weather is always good.  Students and professors are all uncommonly good looking…and always smiling.  (Clearly, no one ever fails an exam at that school.)  The residence halls resemble the Ritz.  The food looks like the fare at an upscale restaurant. 

 Let’s face it; all of us in higher education produce our viewbooks to show our best face.  It would be foolish to do otherwise.

 Which is why the campus visit is so important.  Until a prospective student actually visits a college campus, there’s no way to know what it’s really like.  Now, even if the experience of the campus visit shows a student that the weather isn’t always perfect, and the people aren’t all beautiful, and the food is mediocre, it may still be a perfect fit for that student – and it may cement the decision to go there.  In fact, the student might actually like it better because of the average-looking people and the reality of snow in the winter. 

 Or, the student might arrive at the campus to find that s/he simply does not feel comfortable there.  The reasons might be hard to define, but they are what they are.  It’s something that it’s better to know before enrolling.  We get calls all the time, one or two days into the semester, from frantic parents whose children have gone away to school and have found that they hate it there.  At that point it’s too late to start with us, and the student needs to decide whether to move home and sacrifice the semester of school, or tough it out and be unhappy.  (Or, best case scenario, the student might end up staying at the school and loving it.)  A campus visit doesn’t always pre-empt that sort of situation, but often it does.

 Today and tomorrow are Campus Preview Days at UW-Green Bay.  We’ll have close to 1,000 people here over the two days – it’s busy and crazy, but we couldn’t be happier.  We know that students who have visited are 1) more likely to enroll, and 2) more likely to stay.  It’s a win-win, if ever there was one. 

If you have students considering UW-Green Bay (or any other school, for that matter) who have not yet visited the campus, please encourage them to do so.  Encourage them to visit several campuses.  Students need a basis of comparison in order to make a good decision.  It’s OK to be a smart shopper when selecting a school.  Many years and much money are tied to the decision.  It’s never too early to learn a little Latin – caveat emptor – and to gain a little wisdom from a Burger King ad.

 [Credit goes to Dustin Thill, from the Admissions Office at St. Norbert College for the Burger King analogy.  Thanks Dustin for the brilliant idea!]

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