The Joy of College

This past Saturday I had a conversation with the parent of one of my students. This rising senior finished not only their Common Application and essay, but all of the supplemental writing that they need to do for the schools where they are applying. The parent told me about a casual conversation they had with the mom of a senior, who could not believe that my student had completed all of their application work. The other parent was stressed and concerned, as their child had not started any of the work. And it got me thinking about how much anxiety there is around this whole complex process of applying to college.

The very next day, I got a complete anxiety antidote. One of my biological children transferred to a public college in the state where I live and the drop off was on Sunday. We packed up the car and drove about ninety minutes. I wore a flowered dress but in a cute nod to the school, my husband sported a collared shirt in the school colors.

From the moment we approached the school gates, every last person, from security at the entrance, to my child’s RA, radiated enthusiasm. The organizational logistics were impeccable. (And since the new president is a female graduate of West Point, I was not surprised!) At each stage of the entry process, we had clear instructions for our next steps and if we had questions, there were people available to answer them.

The anxiety antidote hit me as we waited in line at the student center for the appointed time to check in. I could see that every type of car known to mankind was pulling in. There were luxury SUVs and ancient cars with rust, cracked windshields that were in need of a muffler. I saw an incredible level of racial and ethnic diversity. I heard other languages as well as parents that had learned English as a second language.

But here is the thing-the joy and pride was palpable. It felt like a college graduation. There was hardly a person that did not have on a shirt from the college. Parents, students, siblings, grandparents etc., all wore swag from the bookstore. My husband looked like a genius in his golf shirt and I felt like a fool in my flowered dress that had not one element of the school colors.

I stood in line, taking this all in and I was humbled. In the world where I live, the question is not, “Are you going to college?”, but “Where are you going to college?” And on this campus, there is a demographic where just arriving at college is a huge accomplishment. Indeed, when we arrived at my son’s suite, one of the other mothers congratulated me on my son enrolling at a four year institution. I spent several hours on campus and the words of Ted Fiske, the author of the famed Fiske Guide to Colleges echoed in my head: “The American system of higher education is a real treasure”.

So if you have a rising senior and you are feeling anxiety around this process, I realize my blog post will not get the actual application work done, but perhaps it can lend some context and perspective as you coax your child to work on their applications. If you would like to read more of the calm, soothing words of Mr. Fiske, my post, “Thoughts From Mr. Fiske (Or Calm in the Heart of the Application Season)” is here. Good luck!

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