Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Colleges, Round One

Last weekend my husband and I took our daughter on the first of what is probably several college exploration trips. It's a new thing for us, as our elder child, our son, was born knowing that he wanted to go to Notre Dame. This single-mindedness might have bothered me if his father hadn't been the exact same way. Both of them applied to Notre Dame early decision having never considered anywhere else. His father turned out okay, and I think my son will, too.

Anyway, my daughter didn't have any idea what she wanted in a college, and for awhile was overwhelmed by her options. At Christmas we got her to page through a book about colleges, and create a list of places that sounded interesting. The list ended up being 24 colleges long.

We're hoping for some natural attrition along the way. We're not letting her apply to 24 places.

Now I should say that we are amazingly blessed in our daughter (our son, too, but this isn't about him). Her grades and test scores give her a pretty wide-open field. She'd started out with some big parameters: avoid the west coast, avoid big cities, avoid big schools, and "get as far from east Tennessee as possible." (I might have found that insulting if one of my own goals at her age hadn't been "get as far from Indiana as possible.") So we had an open three-day weekend (in Bristol the schools close the Fridays before our two NASCAR races--NOT so that students can go to the races, but because there are schools near the track, and the traffic is unfathomable) and there was a little cluster of schools our daughter was curious about, in upstate New York, where neither me or my husband had ever been. So we went to have a look.

We went to Vassar, Colgate, Hamilton, and Cornell. They were beautiful, all of them, and I would be grateful to have my daughter study at any of them. And since the decision of where to apply is hers alone, I'm not going to say much about my opinions.  I'll offer these thoughts:

--My husband seemed really on edge at the start. We were driving through the hamlets outside NYC, posh places like Westchester and Rye, and I was thinking how glad I was to live in Bristol, and he kept fussing about the schedule. At one point I told him we'd plug something into the GPS after we got to Vassar's admissions office, and he said, "What are you talking about? We can't park near admissions." I looked at him dumbfounded, then realized he had exactly one point of reference. I said, "Honey, that's Notre Dame. Most places allow cars on campus, and you park by admissions, and start from there." He'd never done this before. It was cute. (He calmed down.)

--Colgate was gorgeous, one of the prettiest campuses I've ever seen. But half their non-freshmen live in Greek houses, and the Greek system is not something my husband or I understand. Both of our alma maters had students live on campus for all four years and didn't have sororities or fraternities, and so we are not sure what to make of this system. Are the Greeks only for the cool kids? Do you feel uncool if you're not in one? Would our daughter like to be in one? We have, honestly, no idea.

--None of us liked Cornell. We drove on campus via a back route so that the first thing we saw was the greenhouses and the veterinary school, and, I swear, it looked exactly the greenhouses and veterinary school at the University of Tennessee. Not what I'd anticipated. Nor my husband. I don't know what my daughter anticipated, but by the time we'd parked the car she said, "Nope. Not this one." It was something of a relief to her to find that there were places she could cross right off the list.

--I love college student activism. Our guide at Vassar, although someone inarticulate, prone to ending his sentences with, "like--yeah," and clearly trying to toe the Vassar Admissions Party Line, also let us know that he thought the college should not be paying any of its employees minimum wage (whether or not I agree with him would depend on what employees he meant--the students working 4-hour shifts in the coffee bar, or the janitorial staff working full time), and that while there had been problems on campus--he looked particularly pained here, and said, "There have been incidences of racial bias--like, yeah, and, you know, problems of sexual misconduct that the school authorities didn't handle as well as they should have,"--he felt that the students were banding together to create solutions. He said, "We're living four years of our lives here." At first I heard an unspoken "only" as in, it's a short time so we can put up with this stuff, and then I realized he meant the opposite, since we'll be here for four years we have plenty of time to make this a better place. Because, at his age, four years was still a long time.

Imagine that.