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College tour impressions: College of William and Mary

For a student who wants to aim high and cannot be lured to a no-name school, cheaper college education these days means a single option: Going to a public institution. Even as an out-of-state student, your costs at a state school will be at least 25% and possibly 40% lower than at most upper-tier private universities. And quite a few of those state schools can hold their own in comparison with most non-Ivy-League institutions.

A couple of state colleges (not counting Rutgers, the cheapest for a NJ resident) popped up on our initial target list, and we specifically aimed at visiting at least one on our itinerary. W&M got selected not only because we could combine going there with another visit, but also because it tested the boundaries of how far from home Becky was willing to go.

Killing all the suspense, I’ll say right away that we came to a conclusion it was a bit too far for her tastes. Around six hours driving, coupled with serious restrictions for having a car on campus for freshmen and sophomores, basically eliminates any possibility of weekend trips home, which may not end up as an important ability once she starts her studies, but is an important nice-to-have as she chooses the place to go.

We liked the campus. I expected the architecture to be more grandly colonial and felt it was somewhat undistinguished, but it is mostly pleasant and pretty.

We did not hate the surroundings. The campus sits next to a large shopping and dining area, which continues into the Colonial Williamsburg section. I imagine the town of the size of Williamsburg cannot sustain a variety of off-campus entertainment for too long, but the W&M campus location is definitely livelier than in some other cases on our earlier visits.

Becky had a pretty good interview with a current W&M senior. It only lasted twenty minutes or so, but she felt she managed to impress the girl she was speaking to, for whatever that’s worth.

We enjoyed the info session. It started with an engaging video presentation that was not a straight-up advertisement of the likes we’ve seen elsewhere. It mixed fast-sequence photo slides with short monologues by professors and students extolling virtues of each other, all of that interspersed with quick takes of a guy running around campus on a scooter who turned interesting facts about the school into instant comic relief.

The video was followed by an admissions official who probably did not tell us anything that we did not know already, but had an excellent stand-up comedy sense and kept the audience entertained with pointers on how avoid application mishaps. There was one kid senior assisting her, who gave canned answers to a bunch of mediocre questions. I was not impressed with him until he was thrown what turned out to be a curveball by the admissions lady, and he dealt with it with a kind of self-deprecating humor that I always admire.

The campus tour lasted a bit longer than we thought it had to. The kid leading it was talkative and natural, but peppered his speech with too many instances of “like” and “so”. He was likeable, nonetheless. He took us into a few buildings, which were all serviceable if not exactly remarkable.

In terms of fields of study, W&M has everything that Becky would find interesting but nothing that could be called unique. It did not especially impress us, but also did not put us off in any way. On balance, it is a pretty good school and the first words out of Becky’s mouth when we started our trek back were “I like it”.

And then she qualified it: “It’s probably too far”.