It’s time to think about colleges

A, T, and Tara on the right, on the gorgeous Oregon State University campus
A, T, and Tara on the right, together making the Oregon State University campus even more attractive. 😉

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.

Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.
Lovely lawns and buildings of the OSU campus.

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.

Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn't get a little excited about this?
Six stories of books! What prospective student wouldn’t get a little excited about this?
Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.
Sixth floor of the library. Shhhh! Students are studying here.

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.

In my opinion, any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.
Any college with a view of a volcano is worth considering. Mt. Jefferson rises in the distance.
Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as nearby Universities always are.
Home of the Beavers! OSU and UO are sports rivals, as neighboring Universities always are.

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.

These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.
These UO campus buildings remind me of the Harvard campus.
Pink blossoms didn't show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.
Pink blossoms didn’t show up well in the shade and on my phone camera.
UO does a better job with branding. The signature "O" is everywhere.
UO does a better job with branding. The signature “O” is everywhere.

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.

Basketball game in the courtyard.
Basketball game in the courtyard.
Very cool glass building at UO.
Very cool glass building at UO.
University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.
University of Oregon has much more apparent involvement of the American Indian community, including a longhouse on campus.
Thinking about the future can be exhausting.
Thinking about the future can be exhausting.

29 thoughts on “It’s time to think about colleges

    1. Thanks Jenny! I think we do have great options. Many of these west coast schools offer programs in Biology, Environmental Studies, and similar stuff that Tara wants to study. You will definitely hear the final verdict when it’s decided.

    1. Ha, Derrick, you are right! It takes so much effort! Visiting colleges is sort of a “thing” that parents do with their kids now. Social pressure aside, these trips take planning and money. I am grateful that Tara is really only interested in schools on the west coast, and nearby.

  1. Best sentence ever from a mom about selecting a college: ‘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.’

    I must be an exciting and interesting tour schedule! Best wishes for the best possible out come.

    1. Thanks for your validation Pauline! Visiting colleges is probably more fun for me than Tara, since I’m only an audience member. The lecturers aren’t talking about my future. The campus is not my potential new home. Way less pressure for me.

  2. It is such an exciting adventure but also bittersweet. I was a little sad each time one of mine headed off to school, but always glad to have them come back for visits and extra loving hugs. I think you have a lot of various choices and hope your daughter is able to fine one she is both comfortable with and challenged by!

    1. What a great comment and I appreciate that you stopped by to visit my blog! I worry that I am not a good parent sometimes, because I really am looking forward to getting my house back. I can hardly wait to clean ALL the stuff off the couch, come back 24 hours later and still have nothing on the couch. I am looking forward to washing the dishes, leaving the house, and returning to find that the sink has not been filled to the rim with dirty glasses, pots and pans since while I was gone 4 hungry teenagers showed up. I am looking forward to turning on the kettle to boil, and not having the kitchen fill with smoke because of a few pasta noodles that somehow got beneath the burner and are now on fire.

      My friends say, “Oh, but you’ll miss it when Tara’s not there anymore.” I will miss Tara, I am certain, but not necessarily living with Tara. Ha ha!!

    1. I believed I’ve passed my adventurous spirit on to my child. We are both just as much excited as we are nervous. I’m not stressed out about any of it except the money. Arrgggh. How will we pay for this? Tara has been pretty pro-active about looking for scholarships, so there should be some help that way.

      1. I’ve learned to trust to Universe to provide everything needed. So far, so good. I used to worry too. It was a real waste of energy. Somehow, I get everything I need and then some. 🙂 Looking forward to Wed. 🙂

  3. How much are tuition fees in the US? It costs £9,000 per year in the UK. My son read American Studies and spent a year at William and Mary in Virginia, I remember that being an expensive year! Good luck sorting this all out.

    1. Andrew the range is wide, and depends on the school. Private schools are typically the most expensive. My Alma matter, Brandeis University, has current tuition at around $45,000 ( £29,000?), Harvard and Stanford are right around that amount. Tuition was about $39,000 when I graduated in 2007, which explains why I’m still paying for it despite having an extremely generous grant that wiped out 1/2 of my tuition.

      Important note: Those schools all cost $58 to $60 thousand each year if the student lives on campus. This is despite the fact that students are *required* to vacate their rooms over winter break and summer break, completely moving out all belongings into storage.

      Public schools typically charge a lower rate for students whose home residence is in the same state. If Tara attended OSU or UO, we would get the “in-state” tuition. It’s $24,594 for OSU and $21,922 for UO.

      For our hometown-based Mt. Hood Community College, a year’s tuition would be $13,500.

      This is not taking into account any financial assistance offered by the school. If they really want Tara to attend, they will offer us a break. What we will do is wait till all the offers come in, and then select the one with the sweetest deal. 🙂

      Then there are always scholarships that will apply no matter what the school offers. If Tara can get awarded multiple scholarships, that will also be a big help.

  4. I don’t know the comparison in your taxes and the amounts of money in education you pay in U.S.A, but in Spain is very expensive, however…. What don’t we do fo rour children? I’m sure you are doing the best for Tara, besides, I guess she is a clever girl. Best regards.

    1. You are so right, Rosa. When I was young I thought to myself, “My parents couldn’t afford to help me with college, and I made it just fine. So I don’t need to help my own child.” But now that the time is here, I just can’t do that. I think maybe we’ll split the fees. It might help Tara stay focused on academics if there is debt hanging over their head.

  5. Our friends who stopped by between Bellingham, where they live, and Humboldt, the college they were checking out, are going through the same process. Ben is interested in an environmental focus, so he is checking out some of the same campuses. Humboldt and UC Davis were both Campuses of mine when I recruited for Peace Corps. Also, our daughter Tasha went to the the U of O.

    So these are exciting times for Tara. Best of luck to her. I remember my decisions. I think I will go to a community college. And after two years, I think I will go to Berkeley. That was pretty much it. 🙂


    1. Yep, sounds like all the same schools! Thanks for your wishes of luck. It is such an exciting time.

      I went to school late in life, at age 32. In the end I had it narrowed down to two schools: UC Berkeley and Brandeis. They both offered me the best financial package, and the cost would be equal. So, I chose the school where I would be one of 3,500 undergraduates vs. one of 25,000. Your approach to college seems pretty darned stress-free.

    1. It’s a nice memory, isn’t it? The seniors are so wound up with anxiety, which is too bad, because 4 years of college seems peaceful and stress-free for me. Except for the finals, of course, but those are temporary, and are followed by a nice long break!

  6. Crystal – this is a special time for you and Tara. It’s quite possible that there will not be a bright light to narrow down all of the factors to make the choice. However, it is wonderful that you are helping her by getting involved and also, be stepping aside when that seems right. Good for her and good for you! The point that I’d like to emphasize to Tara (from someone outside, not her mother) is as you say, don’t ever (EVER) think that any of these places are too good for you or that you are not good enough for them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s