You’d think we’d have mastered the college application process by now, having been through the whole crazy circus three times. But we’re still winging it, as evidenced by a recent swing through a series of college tours chosen by our youngest daughter.
So, it is with great humility, empathy and compassion that I offer the following tips:
- Don’t think about it too much. When you consider the overwhelming number of schools out there (13 in the UW system alone, with another 14 two-year schools), you could drive yourself crazy. Is there a right school for your child? Honestly, there are probably several right schools. Trust their instincts and know that if it doesn’t work out, there are plenty of transfer options available to them. One father once told me they’d had a tragedy at his house. “Oh no,” I said. “What happened?” He told me his daughter had not gotten into her first choice school. This is not a tragedy. It’s a disappointment, and those are two very different things.
- But do think about it a little. I sat through an information session with one of my sons during which the Admission Counselor droned on and on about their amazing quidditch program. “Why did you pick this school?” I whispered. “Because it is on the way to Cincinnati,” he said. We skipped that campus tour.
- Schedule a few college tours. Another son and I did a drive-by tour of the University of Chicago. “There’s no campus and this looks like a very dangerous neighborhood,” I told him. Boy, was I embarrassed when, 10 years later, I toured the campus with my daughter and discovered a beautiful campus in a very safe Hyde Park neighborhood. Official college tours also get your high school student thinking about that next step in very specific ways.
- Read your pre-tour email. We screeched into the Notre Dame parking lot late for our nine a.m. information session. I jumped out of the car and sprinted over to a couple of campus police officers standing near. “Can you please tell me where the main hall is” I asked urgently. “It’s under the golden dome,” he said, laughing. I looked up at the famous dome, which can be seen from all points on campus, turned back to the official and said, “Can we forget we ever had this conversation?” “No,” he said. “No ma’am we can not.”
- Dress to impress…Mother Nature. No one else really cares what you’re wearing. I had a little fun when I discovered I’d accidentally dressed in the school colors while touring Vanderbilt last week. But, really, you just need comfortable shoes and weather appropriate attire for the tour. Your kid is not going to get a leg up on the competition because you borrowed you neighbor’s letterman’s jacket for the tour.
- Pick up a campus newspaper. It’s a fresh window to the school.
- Don’t compare your child’s choices or process to anyone else’s. There will always be the kid who forgot to go to his Harvard interview, but received a letter of acceptance anyway. Apply to the reach schools if that’s your thing, but know that, if you don’t get in, there are plenty of other campuses that will welcome you and allow you opportunities to thrive.