College Trip: A Canterbury Distinction

By Brian Estrada
Director of College Counseling

A visit to the Lincoln Memorial is always a moving experience.  Standing on those iconic steps with a dozen Canterbury School students back in November, these usual feelings were augmented.  How could they not be? Many of these Canterbury juniors had last visited Washington, D.C. on a school trip in Grade 8, three years and a different universe ago. On this warm and sunny day, our group had just finished a morning tour of George Washington University while other Canterbury groups were fanned out across the city seeing other campuses. At that very moment, it felt like we were a vanguard for the return to normal that we all have craved for nearly two years.

“You are the first group we have hosted since March 2020,” multiple campus visit coordinators told us as we made our way across Virginia, up to Washington, and over to Pittsburgh during Canterbury’s first College Trip in two years.  The most remarkable aspect of the 2021 College Trip was its utter normality.  Our students attended admission briefings, toured campuses with student guides, met Canterbury graduates enrolled at the colleges, ate in the dining halls, visited college stores, peeked into libraries and residence halls, and strolled past lawns full of frisbee-tossing students - and at least one protest. In 2019 this would not have felt remarkable. Yet, as the past two years have taught us, ‘normal’ is nothing to take for granted.

Canterbury has supported a college trip experience from the earliest days of the high school program. As I have learned in my first months leading the college counseling program, the annual College Trip is among the truly special experiences that Canterbury graduates never forget.  The reason the College Trip is valuable is deceptively straightforward: it is difficult to chart a course without knowing the terrain.  The college counseling team designs the College Trip with the conviction that it is possible for students to become conversant about the different types of colleges which are out there, to understand why these different types of colleges and settings appeal to the students, and to confidently build the optimal college list for them.

This year’s College Trip began with visits to idyllic college towns like Lexington and Harrisonburg, Va., home to the liberal arts institutions Washington & Lee University and Virginia Military Institute, and the mid-sized public college James Madison University, respectively.  Our students also explored campuses located in small cities, like University of Virginia in Charlottesville, the University of Lynchburg, and William & Mary in historic Williamsburg.  They absorbed the large city environs of University of Richmond and University of Pittsburgh, learning in the process that you can’t put too much stock in similar names, as Richmond is a small, highly selective private liberal arts college while Pitt is a large, first-rate research university.  The famous universities of Washington, D.C. - American University, George Washington University, Georgetown University, and Howard University, - are a category unto themselves, but our visits to those campuses offered an apt demonstration of what going to college in a major metropolitan city can be like.  As these juniors continue to reflect on the trip during the College Bound seminar, we will talk about how to convert these particular experiences from the trip into general criteria they can confidently apply to their college search moving forward.

The College Trip always produces lasting memories.  Our students explored the beautiful grounds of Monticello on a spectacular fall afternoon and the next evening cheered on the University of Richmond men’s basketball team from a skybox in UR’s Robins Center arena.  They visited the barracks at Virginia Military Institute and heard a tour guide - who soon will be commissioned as a U.S. Marine Corps officer - discuss the “rat year” (i.e. first-year) experience at VMI.  Later that same evening they listened with rapt attention as Canterbury graduate Bloison Lawee ‘21 discussed his first weeks at University of Virginia (which was different from the “rat year” at VMI).  We noshed on pizza and cheeseburgers mere steps from the U.S. Capitol along with Canterbury graduates attending three of the D.C. colleges our students had just visited.  The next day we ate lunch in the shadow of the University of Pittsburgh’s 42-story Cathedral of Learning. The sheer range of these experiences is an expression of our belief that Canterbury students are prepared for anything, and also that the right college for them could be anything (and anywhere).

I recently came across a quote about the famed French fashion designer Coco Chanel which describes how she chose the fragrance which became the best-selling Chanel No. 5.  “She tried them one after another, compared them, then lingered over the fifth sample. Chanel did not choose the fifth sample; she recognized it. It was herself in fragrance form.”  I cannot think of a better expression of our hope for Canterbury students in their college search: that they will know themselves and what they want in a college so well that they will not so much choose a college as recognize their best college fit when they encounter it.  It is our privilege to craft a college trip experience - and a college counseling program - that helps our students find their place, and then to watch as they take Canterbury's mighty spirit with them into their next chapter.