It’s that wonderful time of the year when college acceptance letters begin arriving in anxious families’ mailboxes. I know this because I see the Facebook posts: “Another Aggie in the house!” and “YAY! Susie got a full ride to Harvard!” (Not really, I made that one up.) It doesn’t seem that long ago that my youngest began hearing from colleges, although she’s on the downhill side of her first year at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee. I recall what a happy/nerve-wracking time the spring of a child’s senior year can be; dashing to the mailbox to see if any large envelopes have been delivered. Good news is always delivered in large envelopes, usually emblazoned with, “You’re In!” Or “Congratulations! Or even, “This is The Big Envelope!” Bad news comes in standard size envelopes with the student’s name typed officially in black, containing a single sheet of paper with a paragraph stating, essentially, “We are sorry to inform you that our institution has rejected you because our admission officers don’t feel that you would make it on our campus,” and then they blame it on the extraordinary number of applications they received that fall. Last year, my daughter, Anne, received a letter from a California institution of higher learning that began, “Dear Juan, we are still considering your application,” and then she never heard another thing from them. After that, we began calling her “Juanita.”
For some students, deciding where to attend college can be difficult. I’ve heard this is true for girls, more so than for boys. My friends who have sons tell me that boys decide at the last minute without much agonizing. Or, if they are agonizing on the inside, they don’t reveal it to their mothers. They just announce their decision and proceed to their chosen school. I had a very different experience with each of my daughters. The oldest felt compelled to visit quite a few college campuses beginning in her junior year of high school. (Or maybe it was I who forced these visits upon her; I can’t recall.) Together we toured several college campuses across Texas and the South. (I am not counting Harvard, which we visited for fun when our family spent a week vacationing in the Boston area one summer. All I remember about it is that a cute, young female student led us on our tour, while wearing a light summery skirt through which her black thong was clearly visible.) Our eldest chose the very first school she’d visited, TCU in Fort Worth, and it was a perfect fit for her, with its exciting Horned Frog football team, solid Psychology department, (her chosen field,) great mentors, and dear friends. My second daughter proclaimed NYU her number one choice during her first two years of high school, and she received quite a few pieces of mail from them. During her junior year, she changed her mind and decided that a little school 60 miles up the road from us, UT, would be the perfect fit for her. She did not feel the need to tour any schools, but reluctantly agreed to sit through “Junior Day” at my alma mater, Southwestern, and, with her sister’s encouragement, she attended TCU’s “Senior Visit Day” with a friend. Driving home, staring straight ahead, she simply stated, “I still want to go to UT.” So, I took her to Austin for an official visit to the university, which scared me to death. Although we’d been to many football games there, I had a hard time picturing my 18 year old attending classes and living on that giant campus amongst all those throngs of people. As we drove home from that visit, my voice quivered as I asked, “Well, what’d you think?” “I love it! It’s the only school I want to attend,” she excitedly proclaimed. She was somehow lacking the fear and trepidation that I was experiencing. Sure enough, she applied to just one school, UT, and was accepted. It, too, proved a great fit for her with its somewhat exciting football team, fabulous Communications department, fine mentors and good friends. Then, it was down to one. Our youngest visited a few schools and applied to several she’d never visited, including University of the South. Months went by, more college visits were made, and she finally announced her decision to attend Sewanee. (I’ve written about that experience in a prior blog, “Sewanee, Here We Come.”) This, too, has been a good decision. The small campus on top of a mountain overlooking the Cumberland Plateau also has a football team, great academics, excellent mentors, close friends, as well as gorgeous scenery.
So, what advice can I share with other parents who are struggling with their children over such a large decision? The most I can say now is, “Don’t sweat it too much.” Yes, it’s important to spend time with your student thinking about your child’s strengths, interests, and potential field of study, and compare that to the offerings of various colleges, but haven’t you already done that during the application process? If so, most of the colleges that accepted your son or daughter would probably be a fine fit. After all, an admissions officer, supposedly trained to recognize these things, determined your child could succeed on their campus. Additionally, there’s much to be said for the student’s attitude about the college they decide upon. If he or she gave it some thought, made their own choice, received their parents’ approval, they will likely begin to “own” their decision and show more and more enthusiasm for their chosen bastion of higher learning. It’s been my experience that both the child and the university will do everything in their power to make it work. Now, I realize that sometimes it doesn’t, and there are instances when something about the experience isn’t right. In that case, try to give it at least one year then realize there’s no sin in transferring. I’ve known several students who have transferred colleges after a year or two and, usually, they have a happy experience the second time around. Nothing is set in stone.
Finally, good luck to all parents of graduating seniors. May you enjoy these last few months of your child’s residence at home, but not so much that you don’t breathe a sigh of relief when they take off for college!