Thursday, August 20, 2009

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: College Visits


If you have a teen, who is a Junior in high school, then you are thinking about college.

As a homeschooler, not only do you get to be the parent and the teacher, but magically, when your student gets to be high school age, you also get to be the guidance counselor too. About a year ago, almost to date, I wrote Not Back to School: A Dancer With Many Hats in a Thankless and Undervalued Job in The Eclectic Telegraph. It addressed this idea of counseling from one perspective, and though humor can get you through Junior year, your day timer will do a far better job.

Junior year, I told my student, is probably the most important year there is, and that is thanks to the schooled kids. Senior year has practically become irrelevant because students are expected to take college entrance tests in their Junior year that assess topics that many years ago would have been addressed Senior year. I am talking about the higher maths and more complicated Sciences and literature. Also, many college applications are available as early as August 1, the summer between Junior and Senior year. So this means, you hit the road to visit the lucky institutions that made it to your students "top 10" list to determine which one will receive $140,000.00(all costs: $35,000 per year) of your money, spread over four years, $175,000.00, over five if you have a budding Engineer student.

This can be a fun outing if you let it. While junior may be stressing, you can be the tourist. That's what I did when we were in Philadelphia over the summer. One of the key questions you, as the ever-wise mentor needs to ask your student is "Can you live in this city for four years?" While the tour of the campus is informative, the tour of the surrounding digs is far more important, unless you have one that plans to hang at the library on campus for the duration.

Whether junior recognizes it or not, sifting through a list of colleges can have some order if you the mentor can be stealth about it. Generally, after academics, location is important. You want your student to think about the idea of small town or a big city.

The list we were working with over the summer had schools in small towns and big cities. None in between. So feeling pretty sure a big city was not going to fly with The Kid, we headed to Philadelphia to visit two of the schools on our list Drexel University and Rutgers School of Engineering in New Jersey. Also, I have never seen Independence Hall, so that was also on our to-do list as well.

Impressing the idea on The Kid that Freshman are generally not allowed to have cars on campus, we decided to travel in the mode he would need to if he went to the big city for school. This of course in Philly means the subway. The subway system in most cities is generally pretty easy, though to a kid who prefers daylight to cave dwelling, the subway is a gloomy scary place with really weird people lurking about.

On the Subway line was Drexel, The Kid's destination, Independence Hall, my destination and the Hard Rock Cafe - The Kid collects the traditional tee shirts from Hard Rock. Has them from all over the world now.

The tour of Drexel was like many of the other college tours we have taken. It is an old campus in the middle of a giant city. When you are in the campus buildings you really have no idea you are practically in the middle of one of America's oldest and most historic cities. Not to mention Penn State is right up the street, so Drexel remains on the list of "schools to apply to".

The Kid got to drive our rented vehicle from Philadelphia to New Brunswick. Sort of a mean trick I suppose to get The Kid to drive in big city traffic, but a practical one. If you are going to live in a big city, you need to be able to deal with one. He did beautifully.

The Rutgers Campus is spread over three areas, with the Engineering and Science geeks cloistered in one beautiful area. Rutgers is a huge school, and the facilities are intimidating, but it looks like some serious work could be done on this campus. One plus is that the campus is bike friendly and the icing on the cake, Amtrak rolls into and out of town regularly - a straight 3 day shot home!

So The Kid surprised me, big cities are OK, as are small towns, with big colleges. Our list of 10. We're working on the applications, as I write this. That is why I haven't updated these blog pages in a while.

See ya soon!

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