As I mentioned last week, my kids have been on vacation this week, and so I’m been mostly away from work and this blog. What I didn’t mention was that we were away on our first serious college tour for my daughter Katie.
Katie was born while her mother and I were in grad school and has lived in a college town almost her entire life. Nevertheless, now that it has come time to think about where she will go and where she will live, we need to immerse her and us into the process so we can 1) learn about the nuances of the various schools and 2) start the psychological transition for her leaving home. So all four of us packed up the car and set off for western Massachusetts last Monday.
In order of visit, we saw Williams, Amherst College, Smith, Hampshire, Brandeis, Tufts, Brown, Wesleyan, and Yale. Without getting into details right now, some of these that were strong candidates before the trip have sunk to lower positions, if not off the list, and some have risen in their probability of being in the collection of schools to which Katie will apply next Fall.
For most of these schools we did both an information session and a walking tour, though Hampshire ended up being just a quick drive-through and for Smith the info session was all we needed before we moved on. Smith was a last minute “why not, we’re in the neighborhood” choice and never was a contender, for various reasons.
The crowds were quite large at most of these school since so many kids had a Spring Break this week. By the end of the week we started to recognize faces of both kids and parents we had seen at other schools. Let me just say that if I were an admissions officer I would much rather be doing a Monday morning info session than a Friday one.
There’s only so much you can say to differentiate liberal arts schools of a particular academic caliber, and so you start comparing the physical plant, the age of the buildings, and the geographic location. By the end of the week, one admissions officer even resorted to saying that her college was “just a happy place to go to college.” I understand her frustration, but it wasn’t a great selling point.
Visiting students are encouraged to ask questions but, again, by the end of the week, it gets tiresome to hear “How much homework do students have here?” and “What do you look for in an applicant?”.
The usual answer to the first is some made up number between 10 and 20 hours and then a caution that it varies. The correct answer is: however long it takes for you to get your work done well.
Regarding what they look for, the answer is always transcript/academic record, recommendations (only 2 please and definitely no more than 3), SAT + 2 subject tests or ACT with writing, and personal statements (just be you, don’t have someone else write it). With that, we easily could have saved an hour total time this week, but now we know.
The best information sessions were done by students, particularly at Williams and Yale. We tried to avoid tours given by freshman since they really couldn’t talk about the upperclass experience other than from they had heard or observed secondhand.
We have one more Middle Atlantic trip to squeeze in before the Fall and then a few quick trips to see particular schools. It was a good week from a family perspective and also for getting current information about the schools. Amazingly enough, my recollections of these schools from 27 years ago weren’t always accurate or relevant.
Psychologically, anything that will help me not be a wreck when this Dylan-loving, Latin-studying, Russian literature-reading, funny, smart, beautiful first child of ours goes off to college will be a major plus.