College T-Shirt Beach Etiquette

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Editors note: This column was first shared on the NACAC Exchange.

Like many college counselors, the only T-shirts I own are college T-shirts. Last week, I wore lots of them during a beach vacation. Since the only time I usually wear them is at the gym at 5 a.m., I don’t usually get many reactions. However, at the beach, people would respond to the college on the shirt, and it became challenging to know how to respond:

Steve Peifer with his wife, Nancy. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Person at Beach: I WENT TO TEXAS A&M!

Me: That’s nice.

PAB: DON’T YOU JUST LOVE IT? (At the beach, people scream when they see their college on a T-shirt.)

Me: I think it is one of the greatest large universities in the US.

PAB: WAIT. DIDN’T YOU GO THERE?

Me: No. I’m a college counselor; I visit lots of colleges.

PAB: Combination of eye roll and mild disgust.

That was OK, but when I wore shirts from smaller colleges that may not be as well known, it was almost like spotting Idaho on a state license plate bingo trip. People got REALLY excited:

PAB: I went to Gwynedd Mercy!!!!!!! I NEVER see shirts from there! My husband went to Alabama, and when he wears HIS shirt, everyone yells “Roll Tide” at him. No one EVER has a Gwynedd shirt!  When did you graduate?

Me: I actually didn’t go there, but I visited last year on a tour of Philly colleges. It was beautiful.

Husband: (muffled laughter)

PAB: Just ONE time, I wish I could meet an alum of my college.

Me: I have a picture of the campus when I took the tour; it’s absolutely beautiful. (Shows her the picture.)

PAB: To her husband: I told you! (And then she hit him.)

At the end of the week, I was wearing my Central Washington T-shirt, and a young man started chanting something that at first made me fear that he did not have enough fiber in his diet. Then I realized that it was a cheer from his college. He looked crestfallen when I didn’t know the chant, but since I had recently been on campus, I told him that the mascot, Wellington, would have been proud of him. He screamed and picked me up and said “You know WELLINGTON!”

After he found out that I didn’t know Wellington very well, he was also very disappointed.

Maybe college T-shirts should come with warning labels:

Warning: The person wearing this shirt may not have attended this college. Proceed at your own risk.

NACAC member Steve Peifer serves as director of college counseling at The King’s Academy (FL). He is a recipient of the CNN Heroes Award for Championing Children (2007) and the NACAC Excellence in Education Award (2010).

6 thoughts on “College T-Shirt Beach Etiquette”

  1. I love this story! I wear my daughters’ school shirts sometimes, and it’s only ok if they’re with me.

  2. At least people won’t have mistaken you for attending Immaculata University since it didn’t go coed until about 15 years ago! I also turn my college t-shirts into workout shirts but I’m still too loyal to my alma mater to wear other schools’ shirts at the beach.

  3. I will wear a (college name) sweatshirt at our college & career fair. During the fair, I will go and change into a different (college name) sweatshirt, about 3 or 4 times. The reps love it, the students love our staff wearing their college shirts as it does generate questions about the campus.

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