A CONFESSION: My prospie visit to Northwestern University was absolutely terrible. I ended a wonderful overnight trip to Tufts with late-night food under the stars. I frolicked on Foss Hill at Wesleyan University with my high school buddies. But at Northwestern I ditched my tour, sat alone in a then-unrenovated Elder and threw caps at Solo cups. Then I sat in the cold on a porch with a wannabe Holden Caulfield, who was smoking and discussing how ‘okay’ the school was.
So why did I come here?
As a graduating senior, I have started to look back on my college career and evaluate the choices I’ve made and the information I used to make them. Usually, when I want to predict how something will make me feel, I ask someone who has experienced that something before. Research in social psychology has shown that while people want to trust their own predictions, the advice of more-experienced others is significantly more accurate. But I’d like to make a case for how choosing the wrong others can go terribly, horribly wrong.
Case study: fraternity life. When I showed up as a prospie, I was introduced to three male upperclassmen who shared my personality and hobbies. They were juniors in a frat, and while they didn’t love their affiliation, they suggested I join in. Definitely rush, they told me, and if I wanted, I can just show up to the social things and otherwise hang out and play music without staying too involved. This struck me as a perfect arrangement: do-your-own-thing by day and socials with sororities by night. Four fun years, here we come.
Fast forward to freshman year when I realized this was not the reality. Rushing and going to chapter and greek events was a major time commitment. I had bonded closely with most of my floor and lived for group dinners in the Allison dining hall. But rushing would mean that instead, I would leave my close friends behind and walk twenty minutes north to eat meals with a bunch of guys I didn’t know half as well (I recall pointing this out to someone who did rush and they replied: “Wow, that’s depressing. Thanks for making me think of that”). In the last two years of school, I’ve still checked in on those same friends who rushed. When I ask them how things are in the house they reply that they don’t really go there anymore.
Only then, in my final years, did I start to understand why my prospie notions were so mistaken. A Greek freshman breathes Greek life, but many Greek upperclassmen have already mentally and physically checked out from their houses. I now realize that because I spent my prospie nights with juniors and seniors, what I got was junior and senior advice. The lesson here is that even if though it may be effective to ask people what it’s like to be in their shoes, you have to make sure they have the right pair of shoes on at the time. College is a one-of-a-kind period of social growth, and freshman [your name here] is not the same person as junior [your name here] and so on. Capturing the right perspective is a delicate art.
So why did I come here? While I hadn’t arrived at the above reasoning back then (must be thanks to my fancy psychology degree), I knew on some level that I had to be selective in choosing the experiences I took to heart. While Tufts and Wesleyan were a great time, they were great fun for one crazy night as a high schooler on the verge of joining college. But in the long term I didn’t think the fun or fitting in would be sustainable over four years.
At Northwestern, it was the opposite. A bad night with a handful of springtime upperclassmen who had mentally checked out of NU did not discredit that which I loved and looked forward to about freshman year at Northwestern. I aspired to a September spent taking orientation trips, trying classes of interest in all six colleges, making friends in a dorm and making a name for myself in a new place. And that if I chose to, I could keep the bad off the list (and I did - that was the last and only game of caps I ever had to play). Those Caulfield types were once freshmen, too. And if they had told me more about how they began rather than how they ended up, their guidance would have been much more relevant to my experience.
Whoever you are and whichever shoes you are wearing, you must know your share of prospies, current students and grads. If you are asking for advice on life, be sure to ask those who have the proverbial "job-you-want." Want to be a freshman somewhere? Ask a freshman what his life is like. If someone asks about life in your shoes, first step into his, too. Time travel into the right mental space and remind yourself what it was like to be in their position.
Don’t trust anything us upperclassmen say, young ones.