Student looks in telescope while another student takes notes

Inhabiting Curiosity

How to keep an open mind in your college search process


Like many people, I am a big fan of the idea of space. It started, for me, with learning all the names of the planets through a Blue’s Clues song (and yes, Pluto was still a planet at that point) and then graduated into science fiction novels and films. I follow NASA and other research teams on social media and keep up with new research findings, even when I don’t entirely understand them.


During my sophomore year of college, however, was when my excitement hit a fever pitch with the launch on November 26, 2011 of NASA’s Curiosity Rover. In addition to space rovers just being cool in general, Curiosity was at that time the largest and most capable rover ever sent to space, landing on Mars on August 5, 2012. Curiosity also had the best research question: “Did Mars ever have the right environmental conditions to support small life forms called microbes?” In other words, Curiosity was trying to figure out if there was ever microbial life on Mars, the stuff science fiction dreams are made of.


The Curiosity rover has been a dream project, generating new scientific resources, high-quality images of Mars and continuing to this day. But it has done even more than that for those interested in space: it has represented a new phase of, well, curiosity.


Curiosity, by definition, is the strong desire to know or learn something. It can sometimes be seen as a negative; if I had a nickel for every time someone told me “curiosity kills the cat” when I was a child, I would have a lot more than two nickels, let me tell you.


However, I would argue that curiosity is one of the defining features of a college education, particularly a liberal arts education. Part of the core of education, in general, is to let you create, explore and nurture ideas and develop a lifelong love of learning. It’s a key trait for learners, employees, entrepreneurs, leaders and in life. Curiosity creates an openness to experiences that allows you to see things differently and allows you to be flexible enough to make changes in a rapidly-changing world.


So, why am I telling you, the person at the beginning of their college search process, how important I find curiosity? Because, at the end of the day, the best way to find your college fit, and to be the best and happiest college student you can be, is to inhabit curiosity.


Inhabit curiosity in yourself: ask yourself questions! When you picture yourself as a successful college student, what do you see around you? What criteria have the classes that you’ve been most successful in shared? What are the values that you think are most important? What are the things that make you most nervous about college?


Inhabit curiosity in colleges as you figure out what to add to your list. What’s their defining feature that makes them stand out from other schools? What are the college’s values? How well do they match with your values? What opportunities will they give you that you can’t get elsewhere? What are the little things that make them stand out to you?


Inhabit curiosity in a campus visit. This is the best time to be curious about a college, because you usually have a current student, admission counselor or both who are there to answer your questions. Never be afraid that you are asking too many questions during a tour. As both a former tour guide and a former admission counselor, I can tell you with 100% certainty that my favorite tours were when people asked me a lot of questions, and the tours that made me want to shrivel up and die were the ones where people stared blankly at me and said nothing. Ask away!


Here’s the thing: you can only learn by being curious. No one knows what you are looking for better than you. So I encourage you to inhabit your curiosity and bring that mindset into the college search process.


Since Curiosity launched in 2011, there has also been another launch of the Mars Perseverance Rover in July 2020. There’s also probably a lot to say about perseverance in the college process, but that’s another blog post. 


However, through new rovers, global pandemics and more, Curiosity has kept moving, kept chugging along and kept asking and answering our greatest questions about the red planet. May we all aspire to such heights.


PS: To everyone who ever told you that “curiosity killed the cat,” they’re wrong. The expression first came in a play by Ben Jonson in 1598, with the line “Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a Cat, up-tails all.” It was later appropriated by Shakespeare in Much Ado About Nothing with “What, courage man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.” It’s not curiosity that killed the cat, it’s care or worry. 


I personally prefer a fuller version of the proverb: Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back. So ask your questions and get answers!


Rachel West is the Director of Enrollment Marketing at Agnes Scott College. Her TBR pile once broke Goodreads, and she has never been accused of not asking enough questions.

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