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.

Let the crap shoot begin

Yesterday, Geeky Boy and I hashed out his college application plan.  Mostly, it was me prodding him to do things.  He’s decided to apply early action to one place.  He has three other definite options, and he plans on adding two or three more that we likely won’t visit unless he gets in.  We’re using mostly the Common Application, of course, but two of his schools, state schools, do not use the Common App, and when he tried to sign up for the online application at one school, he got a SQL error.  Utter fail.  Not a good face for a school to put forward, frankly.  I’m annoyed that the state schools don’t use the Common App, but at least they should have a working application of their own, ya know? It makes me not want to apply.

We made a list of the things that need to get done, and set a two-week deadline.  They’re things like getting a new Naviance password (Naviance is the system high schools use to send transcripts, recommendations, etc.), ask for letters of rec from teachers and/or guidance counselors, and start crafting the essay. The main question on Geeky Boy’s mind, “What if none of these schools let me in?”  He Googled acceptance rates for all his schools.  They’re all quite high–70% or so for most of them.  One is around 40%.  I said, “It’s a crap shoot, really.”  He said, “So it’s like playing poker?”  “A little. So you have to put your best cards on the table.” “I don’t like this metaphor,” he said. Me, neither.

I articulated this issue before, using exactly the same phrase, “crap shoot.”  But now here we are, actually have to make some choices and to let others make choices about Geeky Boy.  It’s nerve wracking.  I think the decision to apply early action was a good one.  He will either get in or he won’t.  If he does, it will take some pressure off, and even though it may still come down to money, that’s an issue we can deal with.  I can’t tell a school to please let my son in.

While I’d said how nerve wracking the process is for Geeky Boy, with his uneven record, I’m seeing seniors at my school with better records, agonizing about it just as much.  They may be stretching to try to get into a school they really want to get into.  They may end up disappointed with the schools that do let them in.  They’re not enjoying gathering all those materials together or writing essays about themselves. I realize there has to be a process, except for open admissions places, but it just seems like a lot to put on an 18 year old.  It definitely wasn’t like this 25 years ago when it was me.  I felt like–and my record was uneven, too–that I’d get in somewhere I applied.  Geeky Boy is not so sure.


Off again

I’m off again later this morning, headed to the greater Boston area to look at colleges with Geeky Boy. This will be the second mother-son college trip. As Geeky Boy said, ” Mom, you’re single-handedly getting me into college.” Which isn’t true at all, though it is true that I’ve strongly suggested he do some things. Several other mothers of boys have had to do the same thing. It is what it is. Truth is, I like my trips with Geeky Boy. He’s a good travel companion and a good navigator. This will likely be the last college visit we make for a while until the applications are done, I think. Trips, in general, with Geeky Boy will soon be a thing of the past, so I can’t complain.

I am a little travel weary, though. I feel like I’ve been away more than I’ve been home. When I get back, I basically have to throw myself into work. I kind of did that yesterday, working about 5 hours. I won’t be able to do that today, though I am taking work with me. I’m grateful for the time off and that I’ve been able to travel, but I feel a bit guilty about the things I didn’t do. That stupid Protestant work ethic again.