The college tour, part one

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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.

Katie at Yale

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.


8 Comments

  1. That’s probably the best get-to-the-meat-and-potatoes account of college visits that I’ve seen. That it is life-changing for all of you is the most touching part. Thanks for being so generous with all of us, and also for giving us a glimpse of the young person Katie has become.

  2. Thanks, Dennis, appreciate it.

  3. if there’s anything you guys would like to know about Williams, let me know. like all of the schools, it has its pluses and minuses, but generally speaking is an excellent place to get an education.

  4. OK, so what software does Katie use at school ?

    My kids are Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office; presumably becuase IBM wouldn’t offer the sort of discount on OS/2 and Lotus SmartSuite that Microsoft offer to schools.

    Things are rapidly changing, though; just call 1-800-MARK-SHUTTLEWORTH ( http://shipit.ubuntu.com/ ) and Linux with OpenOffice.org will be sent as fast as the snail-mail will carry it, at no charge.

    The future is Open.

  5. At school, Apple. At home, Windows but Firefox and Open Office. If it wasn’t for iTunes and perhaps another app or two, she would be on Ubuntu.

  6. Hmm, we never do seem to be able to do anything rights-managed with Open Source. If someone puts in some encryption or restriction, then someone else just takes it out again.

    Still, there’s plenty of ‘open-source’ music here http://www.etree.org/ ; nothing from Sony, EMI, etc.; but if you just want notes played, then it ought to do. Fame but not fortune.

    I wonder what Apple run their iTunes server on. We could do the ‘business end’ of that on Ubuntu. Plenty of money there. IBM Websphere on Ubuntu Linux on an IBM zSeries in Apple’s HQ in Cupertino, maybe. Normally we suggest RedHat or SuSE, but if they wanted Ubuntu then we would quote.

    Perhaps she (or anyone else reading) would like these toys http://gnuwin.epfl.ch/en/index.html . From Lausanne, Switzerland, all the diplomats’ kids have put together a fairly comprehensive collection of open-source software for running under Microsoft Windows.

    Loads of choices.

  7. Once upon a time (1996), I remember touring (in order of original preference) Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MIT, Wentworth, and my local “safety” school, University of Connecticut. After spending a bit of time at each, and realizing I was going to be spending the next 4+ years of my life in this location, and even after being accepted and offered scholarships at each, I chose UConn. As important as “name brand” schools can be, UConn not only gave me a great CS&E program, but has a beautiful campus and environment. I’ve never been much of a city boy, so Boston/Cambridge, and even Worcester didn’t appeal to me. I still got a top notch education, and now I’m an IT (F/OSS + Identity Management) guy at UConn.

    Moral of the story – college is tough, and your compatibility with your college’s environment is critical to a successful, enjoyable experience.

  8. Smart choice to do the on campus visits first… I didn’t and ended up in a last minute rush when I learned in June that the campus I’d been accepted by (we’ll just call it “mickey-mouse-U”) turned out to be a real pit I didn’t want to spend the next 3-4 years of my life living at. Needless to say I did the fly 3/4 of the way across the continent for 3 days in town before I applied at the next campus. (Thankfully, they liked my portfolio well enough to accept me in July for the year starting in August!) It’s thanks to that uber road trip that I (1) got my job at IBM, (2) meet the woman that would later become the love of my life, and mother of my children. (and in 18 years, if all goes well, we’ll be in the same position you are now.)

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