I've reached the age at which I have a child on the cusp of adulthood and flying the nest to higher education. To that end, we have begun the grueling process of The College Visit. In days of yore, most kids I knew arrived - sight unseen - at a state school. Which state school one attended depended largely on grades and which sports teams one preferred. The two flagship schools in my state, IU and Purdue, were not only bitter rivals, but also considered the "better" schools. The kids with a bunch of Cs on their report cards went to the other schools. We graduated and entered the grind of careers, families, and mortgages. The end.
I naively thought the process would be the same for my kids. HA! Now, colleges take attendance and having visited the campus (or not) can make or break admittance. We live in an age in which a kid, like my daughter, can have a 4.3 GPA, a 30 ACT, a 1400 SAT (since we are relatively poor and can't pay for the thousands many somehow afford for extensive test prep and tutoring, these scores are the best we can hope for and I think they're pretty stellar - but what do I know) and be looked upon - by some schools - as academically weak (?!?). There are honors colleges, fellows, research institutes. College is way more involved than I remember.
So far, we have visited Butler, IU, Notre Dame, and DePauw. Sadly, my pleas to apply to Pepperdine so I can have an excuse to visit Malibu on a regular basis have fallen on deaf ears. While I couldn't wait to flee the midwest as soon as possible, I've spawned a homebody with no sense of adventure. But I digress. We embark on a pilgrimage to Nashville soon for the Vanderbilt trip - her "reach" school. Yes, apparently we are supposed to categorize and rank the schools now in to "safety," "target," and "reach" schools. The "safety" schools are the less desirable schools, but guaranteed admission. It's a point of shame if one must ever utter the phrase, "I had to attend my 'safety' school." Heaven forbid someone should have to endure four years at a *gasp* state university these days, even though most now require a very respectable 3.4 GPA. Don't get me started on the cost on any of these institutions, which makes my eyes bulge and my hands tremble. Merit aid, anyone?
As we amble through the campus on the tours, usually guided by wholesome and earnest work-study students extolling the virtues of their particular institution of higher learning, I formulate questions in my mind that I am dying to ask just for effect, but do not, lest I ruin my daughter's chances at admission. She is aware of this list of outlandish queries, and often gives me the side-eye as a reminder NOT to voice my crazy in front of people. These questions include the following:
1. My preferred mode of transportation is a hot air balloon. Do you have anywhere I can store it?
2. I have a wolverine as my emotional support animal. Can this be accommodated?
3. Do you have a carny or clown preparation program in your school of performing arts?
4. How many of your graduates are still living in their mothers' basements because they can't afford to live on their own with the massive debt they have from paying $60K a year for a liberal arts degree? Is that number higher or lower than the 96% cited as having gainful employment in 6 months after graduation?
5. How many of your graduates' parents will never be able to retire and are spending their twilight years as Wal-Mart greeters, still paying off the Parent Plus loans from said tuition?
6. How many notorious serial killers or cult leaders were once students or faculty at this school? How many students have been murdered in the history of the university? Can I request their dorm rooms?
7. Where can I obtain a medical marijuana prescription locally?
8. Do you offer a "nudist" dorm on campus? Is it co-ed?
9. I own several firearms. Am I allowed to conceal-carry on campus?
10. Why are the dorm rooms so bleak? Why do they smell like mildew and despair?
11. What are your thoughts on public seances and spell-casting? Does the university support these activities?
And so on. My daughter, who is unlike me in every way (which is probably why we get along so well), has created a spreadsheet of her college priorities and listed color-coded pros and cons for each school we've visited thus far. Notre Dame is winning; IU is losing. I'll just be glad when the process is over, and I'll have a couple of years to breathe before starting it all over again with my twin boys. I just know I'll miss the girl when she's off becoming who it is she's supposed to be - which, for the moment, is a neuroscientist. And I'll start practicing my Wal-Mart Greeter skills now.
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Courtney is a most fabulous writer and teacher of gifted middle school students. She is the author of two novels - see the "Cate Books" page of this site for information! Watch for updates about future books that need to be part of your personal library. In the meanwhile, enjoy her pithy life observations.