My thoughts ranged from "Pennsylvania has some terrific universities to consider" to “I wish I would have seen more colleges when I looked years ago." Either way, the college touring season officially opened for my high school daughter as we hit the road this month outside the Keystone state.
Since I went 'college shopping' with my older daughter four years ago, I felt equipped for this round. Silly me. This daughter has her sights set on performing arts and that introduces an audition segment to come this year. This new sliver will keep us on our toes; me, figuratively and her, literally.
Here are some surprises I found along the way: (I decided to omit the specific school names in deference to my daughter.
- August can be a terrific time to visit schools. We arrived on one campus without a tour appointment prepared to wander through on our own. We stumbled into Freshman Move In Day and experienced an enthusiastic welcome everywhere we went. It was an added treat to see firsthand how the incoming freshman and their families were greeted. It was one of several tugs at my heart on this trip.
-Even sweeter was making a wrong turn in the performing arts building and passing the dance program's Associate Dean's Office. She invited us in for an informal chat that lasted over 30 minutes.
- Another school was preparing to welcome back its students that week and again, no tours were offered. Yet, an admissions counselor met with us and an office administrator in the dance department showed us the studios, performance spaces and was chock full of program tidbits for us to digest. The quiet summer days leave space for folks to take unscheduled time they may not have during the
regular semester. It's a roll of the dice but luck was a lady this month.
- Info session videos are pretty standard fare but one school showed a clip that was a direct hit on my heart - cue the strings - it began with scenes from their graduation ceremony. With both daughters graduating in June, this was a blind assault on my sensibilities - they had me at hello. It was brilliant and I say bravo!
-I have yet to be on a college tour in which the visiting students ask lots of questions. Parents are the grand inquisitors, hands down. This was true four years ago and ditto for this go round. Urban or pastoral campuses alike - it was the same story. I think it is a bit of a shame to have us looming on each tour but trusted in the fact that our kids are really doing double duty as they listen to the flood of information while trying to picture themselves living in the space.
-Two girlfriends were on one tour and were very chatty with each other and the tour guide. The non-parental visit has its merits.
-On a campus in the heart of New York City a mother focused most of her questions around safety. It was clear this was utmost in her mind. Her daughter's questions, on the other hand, were freedom based as in: Is there a curfew? and Can guys and girls visit and stay over in the dorms? They were reading from two entirely different scripts. It was very entertaining.
-Trying to break up a 7 1/2 hour ride home, my daughter searched for schools that were somewhat on our route and hit gold scheduling a tour and an interview with the Chair of the dance division. Again, the quieter summer month made the woman more accessible and the one-on-one time was precious.
- I really appreciated the schools who not only created very small tour groups but who used the selected major of the visiting students to try and pair them up with a guide in that major or specific school. Twelve guides were on hand at one college so each tour group was no more than two or three students. Our guide was a rising senior dance major from Pennsylvania. Bingo! She took additional time with us following the tour and made sure my daughter saw every facet of the program and facilities.
-My final thoughts are for the long suffering younger siblings who have no vested interest in any tour, but attend them in a forced march sort of way. I feel your pain, pity your parents, and trust you will be rewarded in some way.
We have a few more colleges to visit in the fall. Then there are the auditions, which will be a chance to experience the dance instruction and feel the campus life. And finally, the 'accepted students' days in April which could be called 'boots on the ground' experiences when decisions loom large.
All this just to get in the door.
I don't know if it's season to be jolly, but the time is ripe to be on the college hunt.