“Where are you going to college?”
“What will you study?”
“Where’s your son going to college?”
“What will he study?”
The Snodell family has been pummeled nonstop with these questions for two years. Our youngest is about to graduate high school, as his brother did 11 months ago. This means college search flashbacks aren’t really flashbacks but instead one seamless, never-ending, excruciating experience.
We are well aware this is all a blessing. Our boys are bright and curious, and their accomplishments have made us proud. Yet, to be honest, the whole higher learning launch has been a dizzying ride.
When our firstborn was a high school junior, my husband and I thought we were pulling a genius move by lumping the college visits together for both boys. Turned out, even though the two are equally science-minded, our youngest would later show an interest in a few different schools. Not only that, he needed to take second looks at places he had already visited as a sophomore.
So, we have been on about 1.5 million college visits. We have also attended a billion traveling university presentations. Now it’s April. Schools require a May 1 commitment. Everything is finally on the table: Acceptance letters, scholarship offers, completely insane full retail prices, gut feelings, confusion and angst. As of press time, we’re still taking our son on last-minute looks. I can’t believe this.
Why can’t we escape the vortex? We’re wiped out. Our eyes glaze over at the mention of an admissions presentation. Worse, we can lip synch any on-site college tour. Here’s a quick virtual one for you:
A chatty undergrad guides you across campus while walking backwards for an entire 45 minutes. That in itself is a tense distraction. Will the coed trip?
As you worry, you’ll hear things like, “Here at Blankety Blank U, we have libraries! Our professors are awesome! Look, we have buildings! And dorms! We have labs and goggles! We have spirit!”
At some point, you’ll pause at some iconic structure. You’ll hear a variation of, “Behold our unique tradition! If you walk through this archway/climb this staircase/step on this stone/touch this statue before graduation, you will change your major five times/fail a test/transfer out/grow a tail. Ah ha ha!”
Then, you get dumped at a Q&A session. It has become a game in our family to predict the questions other parents will ask. I say parents, because visiting high school students are dazed and painfully silent. It’s the moms or dads who always blurt, “How many students graduate on time?” “How many are gainfully employed within six months of graduation?” “Do you accept AP credits?” And there’s the humiliating outlier inquiry, too, like, “Are turkey fryers allowed in dorms?”
All visits blend together. Every school has bragging rights about something. Every school has a motto. Every school has a beloved mascot. And it seems today all colleges are obsessed with blathering on about study abroad programs. We’re more interested in the “study here” stuff.
My husband and I remind each other that the Periodic Table has exactly the same elements at “reach” schools as it does at Never-Heard-Of-It U. Wherever your child goes, titanium’s atomic number will always be 22. And we ponder: What exactly is “a good school?” Is it truly measurable? Great, smart, inspiring instructors and promising student peers are everywhere. The world is big and quirky. Opportunities and society-changing ideas spring up in the oddest places, including the garages of dropouts.
So much depends on the person. The trick is finding what works for your teen — with the pesky consideration of cost and value. I have a hunch that a curious, motivated student can thrive almost anywhere. If there’s pizza delivery.
Maybe we should just throw a dart.
Our high school senior, who is on the brink of his decision, jokes around that he answers the constant “Where are you going?” question with this:
“I plan to attend College University. Home of the Mascots.”
That kid is brilliant.