Round two: college visits. Give me strength. And maybe a new pair of sneakers. It was novel the first time. Also, it was in sunny California. So there was that. But this time around, we’re doing East Coast, and the weather is still trying to make its way out of the dreadful winter of ’15, but I digress (and if you’re smart, you don’t want to get me started on the dreadful winter of ’15). Back to the “we’re walking, we’re walking” tour of higher education. You could be all cynical and talk about what an unbelievable racket it is, College USA, but I won’t go there. But what I will say is that the stress of finding the right college, is like the stress of finding the right mate, and with one out of two marriages ending in divorce, you get the picture, right? College is important. Let’s face it, it’s the price of admission at this point, but the kind of insanity that juniors and seniors in high school feel is only slightly bigger than the insanity their parents feel in the face of not only trying to find the right college for their offspring, but also in finding the money to pay for the right college for their offspring. And since my daughter hates when I even mention I have a daughter on this blog, I will speak from my own point of view, on the college process, part one: “the visit.” Colleges are going hard these days, trying to get you to commit. They may or may not want your kid, but they definitely want your money. There are inspirational films that tout the “family” feeling, the “excellence,” the superiority of a said college. I’m a little Scorcese when I watch these films of smiling kids and campus beauty. I work in marketing, and am one tough audience, so you had better give me honest and compelling, if you want to turn my head. It’s the rare film that has me screaming from my seat, “Take my kid! Here’s a check! I’ll leave her today!” I’ve found the admission’s person who makes the pitch, I mean, “welcome speech,” is often surprisingly not the best representative of an institution. This is your first contact with the school, so like I’d be all looking for someone with the intelligence of Einstein, the charm of Ellen Degeneres, and the charisma of Bill Clinton, but often this person couldn’t convince you to use the bathroom after one of the extra large bottles of Smart Water, let alone pay $60,000 a year to attend their school. This is a conundrum to me, that they don’t have George Clooney doing these talks, but they don’t. Wear comfortable shoes, and layers. Because you’ll be walking around campus, where the weather could be anything from “I’m about to strip down to my bra” all the way to “I wish I had my sleeping bag coat.” Your tour guide has been chosen for his/her mass participation in all things College. It’s usually like, “Hi, I’m Lillian, I’m from Lake Springs, Arkansas, I’m on the swim team, where I swim an eight second mile. I also sing in an acapella group, called “You Glow, Girl,” am in charge of the gluten free division of the dining hall, teach Chinese at the homeless shelter in town every night, and I help to raise awareness of gun violence at our school’s shooting range.” My son would be great at this, but you know, you can’t say, “Hi, I’m Jake, a psych major, and I’ve been at every party ever given at USC.” It probably just wouldn’t fly. Anyway, after you walk a mile or two or three, at a slow pace, you will ache because of all the standing around. If you were to walk the same amount without all that standing, everything would be fine, but all that standing is a killer. Lillian will try and make jokes, but mostly she is not funny.
Some schools who are well endowed, will give you “stuff” ranging from fat brochures, to shirts, pens, pads, and folder with their mascot emblazoned on the cover. This loot will hang out in your child’s room until they make “the decision.” You realize this may be why they charge so much for college. You’d like to suggest they don’t give away so much loot on “the visit,” and lower the tuition by $10,000 per year. The car ride home is sometime silent, which can mean any number of things. It can mean your child has found the college of their dreams and is fantasizing about what it will be like to become a freshman there, or it can mean they are having a wordless panic attack over the fact that they have just met C.O.D. (college of dreams), and do not have the grades or scores to go to school in The Promise Land, and are thinking of ways to rewrite history. Advice: Do not say “I told you so,” now or at any point during the college process. I’m just telling you, you will send me an engraved thank you note for this advice. Sometimes the car is loud, with chatter, things they liked or didn’t like, some understandable, and some inconsequential, or with music, to mask the scary and complex feelings “the visit” has brought up about having to leave home. Often a kid just needs a little Kanye to make right. I maintain that for every kid, there are a number of great colleges and universities out there. It is not a prince charming situation. There is not just one right school. Getting the SAT’s and GPA’s to line up, and the geographical location to meet your child’s needs, and the essay written, and the stress level under control, are much harder, bigger problems. Keeping your sanity will help your child, who can become Sybil’s more attractive sibling at any moment during this process. Take your valium, I mean, do your meditation, and get down on your knees and pray to the Saint of Admissions. Remember to breathe and pace yourself. It’s a long process. You’re probably going to need a bigger boat. And at the end of the day, or I should say, tour, thank your lucky stars you live in a country where college is a choice, where your kids are lucky enough to be able to take these tours, and have the opportunities that will leave them unemployed after four years, and $200,000 (not really, but sort of). And, there it is, the gratitude.