Collegepalooza 2016

I’m happy to report that Collegepalooza 2016 has come to a close. I know it feels like we just got started, but I spared you the blow-by-blow descriptions of the three-hour drives at 8 pm across Massachusetts into New York. You’re welcome.

I already wrote about one tour, but the other one of note was the first one. I found myself on a stormy Saturday afternoon at Dartmouth College. It’s one of those campuses right out of central casting that doesn’t need a sunny, fall day to scream hoidy toidy pre-1800s New England college. I admit I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder being at the Ivy League school. They are all snooty, right? But then the chipper young man giving the tour began making comparisons to its “peer” colleges; as in “we have more research opportunities that our peers, we have a better student faculty ratio that our peers.” I started to get the sense Dartmouth may be considered “lesser” among its “peers.” I can pretty much guarantee that on the Harvard tour they are not comparing themselves to Dartmouth — or anybody else for that matter. In a way, it actually made me like Dartmouth more. It reminded me of that old Avis ad, “We’re number two, so we try harder.”

Once I was able to let go of my little prejudice, I started to notice a weird thing about the people on the tour. A significant number of the pairs of perspective college kids and their parents were dressed similarly. There was the sturdy mother and son team in their North Face wet weather gear. I was actually a little envious of them; it was raining on and off, and we’d forgotten umbrellas. I’d thought/hoped maybe the tour guide office might supply them. Makes sense right? Dry perspective students and parents get to concentrate on how great your school is rather than being distracted by their squishy wet shoes. It wasn’t an unrealistic expectation — when we visited a State University of New York school, I saw a big bucket of umbrellas. State school. Just sayin’.

Anyway, back to our pairs. There was a stereotypical Ivy League preppy dad and daughter. He look like he stepped out of the Lands’ End catalog, I kid you not. Right down to the summer sweater tied around his neck. I’m actually probably insulting him with the Lands’ End reference. There was a prominent, way-higher-end-than-I-shop, brand label on his khaki shorts. I just didn’t recognize it or remember it, and as taking photos of people’s asses is rather frowned upon, I can’t tell you what it was. The daughter was wearing a slightly funkier version of the outfit. Her multicolored shorts clearly had preppy roots, but the designers had taken a careful fashion runway step out of that box. There wasn’t a label on her shorts.

There was the practical/nerdy-looking mother and son team with the see-through plastic ponchos, different colors, and the mother and daughter who were both taking it up a notch with nice dresses. Nothing says “I’m better than you” than being dressed up on an outdoor walking tour on a rainy Saturday. I half expected to see a manservant walking next to them with an umbrella. I know, I shouldn’t judge — perhaps they had a charity event to attend to afterward.

My kid and I were not dressed similarly, and I consider it a good thing. However, I fully accept that there may be another blog out there wondering at parent and child pairs who did not look like they belonged together, and postulating they were crashing the tour for the coffee and snacks. I neither confirm, nor deny.

So in addition to learning that some families actually do dress alike, and it’s not just the Sears catalog family models all wearing the same red plaid pajamas, here are some other tidbits I can pass along to those of you who may need to go down this road:

  1. You may call today’s kids lazy, entitled, etc, but they do way more in college than I ever did. I’m not talking about these hyper-involved guides — they’re just freaks of nature. No, I’m referring to the fact that nearly everyone has a major and minor, does research, and goes abroad. Even my kid noticed and asked me what my minor was. In my day only super ambitious people did minors. I switched majors my junior year, so I probably could’ve had enough courses for a minor, but as I recall there was extra paperwork/waiting in an endless line at the registrar’s office to file said paperwork. There may have also been a fee, and since I was living on $40 a week to cover food, phone, and electricity, I’m thinking that wasn’t in the cards for me. God, I sound like a Depression-era survivor. For the record, I did not walk 10 miles to get to school.
  2. There are more food choices than in New York City, complete with semi-famous chef night and the local farm fresh food bar. I’ve never lived in New York, but people who do extol the virtue of having access to any kind of food 24 hours a day. The college food trough isn’t quite open 24 hours, but they do have everything, including a soy milk dispenser. Now this may be an odd thing for me to notice, but hear me out. I drink soy milk to reduce my hot flashes, so I had no idea there were other reasons to drink it, or that so many non-perimenopausal people drink it, they need a damn dispenser. In my day, there was just food, and my first cheese blintz qualifies as exotic.
  3. There are more student resources than actual students, but it’s an open question about whether anyone actually uses them. At first I was impressed about how many staff/faculty/places students could go to for help — everything from writing an essay to advice on creating an app to discussing a personal problem. By the fourth school, though, I started to wonder, do kids actually use them? None of the wonder guides admitted to using them, and only a few mentioned that they had “a friend” who used this or that resource. Sounded suspicious. It reminded me of the guidance counselor I had in high school. Yes, technically we had “guidance;” however, the reality was that mine was an old fart a few years from retirement. (Hey, Mr. Ginsberg, you sucked.) I was an honors student who wanted to go to college, but he urged me to take a non-college track, elective course — maybe it was tie-dying or something — because it fit better in my schedule and he complained that otherwise he’d have to do extra work rearranging my schedule to make sure I had the appropriate courses. Was I trying to get into art school? Planning on taking a  VW bus across the country after high school? No, so fill out the paperwork you lazy ass and get me into that college required science class. “Resources” may not be all they are cracked up to be.

Are any of the schools we visited the right fit for my kid? Who knows. To completely jumble my metaphors, all I know is that this is a marathon not a sprint, and we’ll jump off that bridge when we get to it. The college visits are done. Up next, the Common Application. I’m going to need more wine.


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