College Visits

We made our first college visit for Geeky Girl yesterday.  She’s only a sophomore, but she wanted to get one under her belt before visiting was for real.  The weird thing about college visits for both my kids is that their parents work at colleges (or at least they both used to).  They’ve spent quality time in real colleges, either places we worked, or at conferences.  So colleges are not entirely a mystery.

Also, I know a lot about the inner workings of colleges and will look past the sales pitch at things like adjunct teaching percentages and endowment numbers.  Geeky Girl, at least, found this useful.  Yesterday, when the admissions team touted the 99% of their classes are taught by “real” faculty stat, I quickly googled the percentage of those real faculty who were adjuncts. 22% it turned out.

I thought the visit we went on yesterday was a good example of these visits.  There was the pitch, and then the tour, and the tour guides had a lot of good things to say, solid things about academics and about the social life.  Geeky Girl did not look particularly happy on the tour, but afterwards said she thought it was cool.  She remembered some of the stats and was impressed by some of the academic things they mentioned.

I reminded her that the college was selling her on the school as much as she was selling herself to the school, and to keep that in mind as we go through this whole process.  In fact, I said, sometimes the school was more desperate than she would be.  She recognized the whole thing as a sales pitch.  I didn’t even need to say anything.

When I applied to colleges almost 30 years ago, I did two visits.  The first was in the form of a summer program.  The second involved visiting a friend.  In theory, I was supposed to go on the official tour for that second visit, but I did, um, other things instead.  Both visits were informative.  At the first visit, I got a real sense of the faculty and the classes and dorm life.  On the second, I got a real sense of the social life.  I ended up going to the first school and not the second.  I knew I’d never make it to class at the second school. Note that my parents were not on either visit.  And this was typical for most of my peers.  The whole college thing is very different these days.

Had my parents or I treated the college application process with just a smidge of the intensity people treat it with now, I think I probably would have ended up in a more prestigious school.  My mother did poke me to fill up the “left side of my folder” with activities, but otherwise did not really participate.  Brochures showed up at my house.  I would go to the library and pull up the catalogs of schools on microfiche, and I used the Princeton review to find out the real scoop on schools.  But I had no real guidance in terms of selecting schools where I might fit nor in sculpting an application to get into a school that might be a stretch for me.  I pretty much threw darts at a map.

While Geeky Boy wasn’t really interested in college, Geeky Girl is a different story.  She’s interested and she has the record to have some choices.  She also kind of knows what she’s looking for.  And she’s savvy enough to do the right things to put her in a good position for college applications.  So far, she’s taking it seriously, but not getting super stressed about it.  I, too, haven’t put any pressure on.  Study for the SATs? Maybe a little if you feel like it.  Do crazy academic things in the summer? Meh, it’s vacation, but if something strikes your fancy, okay.  The only things I’ve pushed her on are running for office and getting involved in things at school, not because of college (okay, maybe a little), but because I think she brings a lot to the table.  I’m trying to be the balancing in force in an environment where people study for SATs in 8th grade, and spend their entire summers enrolled in fancy-sounding academic camps. So far, she has a good head on her shoulders about the whole thing, so I think we’re going to be okay.  Still, it will be an interesting ride.