Giving the Old Colleges a Try

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The college tour has become a staple of middle and upper middle class family life in America. As soon as Junior hits puberty, parents plan their spring and summer vacations around a tour of colleges to which their child might apply.

My family has been no exception. During their junior and senior years of high school, my older daughter and son had the chance to spend some quality time with Dad on the college trail, going as far as Maine and North Carolina in their quest for the perfect college.

I remember my own college exploration some mm-mm-mm-mm years ago. It consisted of filling out the application to the University of Illinois and waiting. The U of I was and continues to be the finest public university in the Land of Lincoln. (Sorry, Redbirds, Salukis, and Huskies.) I was lucky to get in and had a wonderful education.

These days it seems kids have so many more choices and opportunities to go to school in far away states or even overseas. My oldest studied in North Carolina, and my second-born is currently studying in Texas. (At least I hope he’s studying!)

Now it’s our rising senior’s turn to find his dream school, and I got to go along for the ride. We took a trip to California this week to goggle at the campuses of UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, and USC. We also looked in on a beautiful, small, quiet Catholic college called University of San Diego. (A mom can dream, can’t she?) Instead of studying at a place in the middle of corn fields (my college experience), these California students have the ocean as their backdrop and the bustling city of L.A. as a playground. They can take classes such as Sailing and Surfing or prescreen new movies in a Films class.

As we cruised the surroundings of UC Santa Barbara, I wondered just how students find the will power to buckle down and actually study. Some live in houses or apartments facing the Pacific Ocean. Even the dorms have ocean views. There will be no huddling in winter coats and walking to class against a brutal Midwestern wind here.

Call me old-fashioned, but shouldn’t going to college involve a certain amount of suffering and deprivation? Shouldn’t bleary-eyed students be walking around like zombies with mountains of books in their arms?

I guess I’m glad my son wants to spread his wings and meet kids from other parts of the country and the world. Living in California might seem idyllic, but it’s an awfully long way from home. If California becomes the setting for my boy’s college experience, at least I’ll have a nice place to visit on parents’ weekend.

I have had such a wonderful week spending time with just one of my children, something I have seldom had with this third-born child. We laughed and dined and talked about the future. He regaled me with funny stories about his friends. I shared some stories from my own college days.

All in all, I recommend going on the college tour circuit with your teen. It’s a great bonding experience and a way to get a glimpse into their dreams and their future.

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6 thoughts on “Giving the Old Colleges a Try

  1. I did the U of I application and wait thing, too. I desperately wanted to apply to U of C and they kept sending me invitation’s to apply. My parents wouldn’t let me, saying it was in a bad neighborhood. I realize now that they were likely using that as an excuse to save face over the fact that they simply didn’t have enough money, even though I earned a small scholarship.

    I have made one college trip with my son. I am quite relieved that he decided not to go there and is attending the local community college. We can afford that. In fact, it is a really good bargain as colleges ago. It has excellent faculty and a good academic reputation, which it retains despite recent administrative scandals. Our daughter is hell-bent on getting scholarships so that she can attend the college of her choice. She knows that it is the only way she is likely to have options beyond the state schools we can barely manage. She is 12.

    I don’t mean to offend, but college tours to places far flung are not the stuff of most people’s experience. The tuition and travel involved is simply more than many can bear. Our country is so far behind in making advanced education affordable that, increasingly, it is only the wealthy who can afford the kind of college experience your children will undoubtedly have.

    In many countries, undergraduate tuition is free, or at least affordable for students who qualify. We must do something to change the increasingly unbearable cost of higher education for the majority of Americans.

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    • Janice, I agree with most of your thoughts here, and the ever rising cost of college tuition is something our country needs to get control of. I disagree, though, about college tours. I met many people from varied backgrounds and locations, and they were not all wealthy. There are also numerous scholarship opportunities that can make even out of state or private colleges affordable. My family is indeed fortunate to be able to travel and my children to choose where they want to go to college. I don’t for a moment take for granted this good fortune, and I hope my children use their education for the betterment of others as well as themselves.

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  2. California is great in some areas, just like everywhere else, some areas are safe and some are not. USC is known as an excellent school (expensive though). A lot of people in San Diego area attend UC San Diego, whatever path your child chooses, I am sure will be a great experience. I enjoyed reading your post!

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  3. Carolyn Rudolf

    Mary, I also enjoyed the college tours with my sons, all three of them with my older son and all FIFTEEN of them with my younger son. Ironically, the older one found the best choice the first time around, but the younger one ended up transferring after first semester. That does not take away from the great experience I had doing these visits and spending that time with both of them. I know that Frankie will do great no matter where he goes….. he’s a great kid!

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