Colleges have been on our minds for awhile, but the pitch and volume are increasing. We’re mostly past the application period, as deadlines for most colleges and universities have come and gone. Still in the nail-biting period of not having heard from any of them whether Tara has been accepted.
I said “we’re,” and it’s a little inappropriate to say it was a joint effort, as Tara has done most of the work. However, Mom has done a bucketload of essay support and editing, which involves not only the writing part, and having to recall the exact date of ACT testing and volunteer work at the Buddhist temple, but the morale and emotional support of keeping a freaked out teen full of hormones from totally wigging out and having a nervous breakdown after the 27th time of clicking word count and finding that the essay is still 12 words over the limit. It has been a super great exercise for me in being an editor, in that when I manage to keep my suggestions out of it, Tara has written some unbelievably good stuff. Really good. As in, I’m wondering if the people in Admissions who read Tara’s essays are going to believe that all I did was point out run-on sentences and changes in tense. How good are teen writers these days? Well, if Admissions will only condescend to an interview, they’ll find out in 2 minutes that Tara is as eloquent and wise beyond their years as the essays seem to imply.
In Boston, over Halloween, we checked out my Alma mater, Brandeis University, as well as UMass Boston and Harvard when our friends showed us around the other campuses. “Why do you guys want me to go to school in Boston?” Tara asked of R. He replied with a smile, “Because if you go to school here, we get your mother.” It’s nice to be loved.
My brother in Seattle has been pestering me for a year to get Tara up there to visit the University of Washington campus, particularly since it’s a school that offers an environmental program that Tara is interested in. It’ll be our next stop for sure, along with Western Washington University, right next door to UW.
While Tara initially insisted that no Oregon or California school would even be considered, due to the proximity to parents coinciding with a deep and abiding desire to get away from parents….we discovered that one of the best Forestry programs in the whole world is 1 1/2 hours south, in Corvallis, Oregon at Oregon State University. Tara has wanted to study Forestry since about 5th grade. After some agonizing over the implications of being in the same state as Mom, Tara gave in and applied. Once that hurdle was crossed, the applications to Portland State University, University of Oregon, UC Davis, Humboldt State University (in the same town Tara’s dad lives in California) and Stanford followed. I’m relieved that the potential for in-state tuition now exists. I consider it absolutely unfair that I have to contemplate helping Tara with student loans while I’m still paying my own. And trust me, FAFSA does not give a flying pig about whether parents are paying student loans, when calculating the expected family contribution.
After telling other parents which schools Tara applied to, a comment I’ve heard frequently is something along the lines of, “Wow, Tara must be brilliant to be able to apply to those schools!” I know what they’re thinking, and no, my kid does not have straight A’s. Tara gets pretty good grades – that’s the best I can say about it. The thing is, colleges and universities – particularly the very best ones – do NOT want carbon copies of straight-A automatons filling their Freshman classes.
I was the first person in my family to get a college degree, and I figured out why that is a big deal. Because I know things that I can teach Tara that my parents were not able to teach me. For one thing, there is absolutely no reason to limit yourself when thinking about college. Someone pushed me until I learned that lesson, so I was able to do it for my own child. What schools actually want is to know how a potential student will contribute to their college. So the ability to get good grades is definitely important, but so are creativity, involvement, motivation, diversity of perspective. This is what I was able to tell my kid: you are more than your grades, and yes, these colleges know that and they are dying to see it in your applications.
It took nudging and some psychological gymnastics, but I got Tara to apply to tons of schools covering a wide range of school cultures and reputations and donor levels and numbers of (and lack of) famous alumni. Public and Private. Easily affordable and ridiculously expensive. And now my kid is out there in the world. I got Tara to visualize being the kind of student who could apply to Stanford, and have a decent chance of being considered. Now THAT was my goal. Academic program and Financial package are the two main things that should determine where Tara goes to school. “Am I good enough?” cannot be one of the factors.
President’s Day I took my kid and besties A and T down to visit the OSU campus. We showed up with 535 other registered visitors that day and we filled the auditorium for the 8:30 am welcome. We were then shuttled off to a briefing just for students interested in the College of Forestry, and heard that OSU is ranked 7th in the world for Agriculture and Forestry studies. We learned that there is an 11,500 acre demonstration forest a few miles away that is considered part of the campus, and that students attend many classes there learning silviculture and preservation and identification and a hundred other things.
Oregon State University has a gorgeous campus. Tara got pretty excited about the six-story library, so we went inside and took an elevator to the sixth -and silent!- floor to look around. Apparently there are some Nobel prizes displayed in the library, but we were already getting ready to head to the next campus when we heard about them, so we did not go back and look.
Thirty minutes down I-5 is the University of Oregon – home of the Ducks. We were not registered to visit here, so there was no planned itinerary. We just walked around and soaked up the atmosphere, and there’s something to be said for that. Kids were sprawled everywhere in the warm sunshine. Groups sat all over the grass, laughing and studying. There were pick-up basketball games, frisbee, and hackey sack. Music was playing. It was definitely a place a kid would want to spend 4 years. It made the focused and subdued OSU students seem rather uninteresting, I have to say.
I was glad for the big Jeep being large enough to haul the kids in comfort. They wanted to sit together in the back seat, so we filled the front passenger seat with jackets and backpacks and gluten-free snacks and maps and college brochures. Sometimes….yes, sometimes I’m ok with fitting the image of a suburban Mom.