The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are officially here, which for me means the three “Cs:” colleges, cycling and camaraderie. The beginning of summer has become my time to venture to a new region of the country or revisit a familiar one to tour colleges by bike. I look forward to what has become an annual journey of discovery with my two-wheeler colleagues, an energetic group of school counselors and independent consultants who share a sense of humor and our love for cycling and colleges. This year our trip takes us to western Michigan, Indiana and Chicago. The colleges on our list comprise an eclectic group of household names and lesser known gems: Calvin College, Hope College, Kalamazoo College, University of Notre Dame, Valparaiso University and Northwestern. And if time allows before our tour officially begins, I will fit in two more Chicago schools, regretfully by means of public transportation! In all, we will cover 255 miles in five days. We are not a wimpy group; we transport our own gear in panniers and hope to get some rest after long days of cycling and college touring, retiring most nights in campus dorms on extra-long, well-worn twin mattresses.
I should mention that barely nine months ago I toured half of the colleges on my upcoming trip. The campuses were teeming with students and showing off the colors of their brilliant autumn splendor. Yet “been there, done that” was no excuse to take a pass on this year’s bike trip. It’s not just about my love for cycling and the camaraderie of being with summer biking pals. I relish the opportunity to revisit, even the campuses I have walked before. The schools, no doubt, will be more tranquil in July than during the school year, and I expect that they will show very differently under the haze and humidity of early July. No college can be captured in just a few snapshots; nor should that be the sum total of my experience on a particular campus.
The first trip to a college is an opportunity to get a feel for the landscape. I want to see the big picture: the essence of the academic experience, the social life, the character of the student body and the feel for the surrounding community. A return trip allows me to delve deeper. Every time I see a campus, I discover something new, an unusual major I had overlooked before or some specific aspect of the admission process that may make a difference for a particular student. Building upon what I already know reinforces my understanding of what makes a college special and who would thrive in that environment.
I sometimes stop to ponder what I love so much about what I do. Today I would state my job description this way: my role is about discovery. Whether it is getting into the mind and soul of each student or uncovering the unique qualities of a particular college, I am challenged to find matches that will enrich a young person’s life over the long term. Next week I will have another opportunity to pursue that mission: on a bike!