Archive | August, 2011

Calm Before the Storm

31 Aug

August is supposed to be a quiet month, the calm, if you will, before the frenetic storm of September and a new school year.  It’s when families go on vacations, relax, and enjoy the last of the fine weather.  What with earthquakes, hurricanes, and visiting colleges, it’s been a busy time and I have not posted in a while.  I hope that those of you who found yourselves in Irene’s path this weekend are safe and that things will be back to normal soon for you.

Around here we have resigned ourselves to the start of school next week.  Every time I mention the new school year, my daughter groans, “Nooooo!”  She has started looking at the Common Application, which has been online since August 1.  She’s also making up her college list and checking it twice, figuring out what needs to be sent to which colleges.  I can see already that it is going to be a lot of work and finding a way to keep everything organized will be crucial.  In addition to the Common App essays, many colleges have a supplement that will usually include additional essays particular to that college.  When she last checked, many of her colleges have not made their supplements available yet.

I imagine that her classmates and other college-bound seniors around the country are doing the same, getting down to the actual process of applying, gathering information, composing essays, and putting it together.  She worries about people asking her where she will be applying, making assumptions about her choices, and her feeling pressure.  Much as I want her to ignore what other people think, I know these fears are real to her.  So we discussed how to handle questions and she has decided that she will not discuss her choices with anyone, be they her friends, her parents’ friends, or casual acquaintances (you’d be surprised how many people have asked about her college choices, from oral surgeons to random strangers in cable cars in Pittsburgh.  No, really.)  I do feel regret that she can’t share her experiences with her friends because they can help each other get through this.  But maybe that’s expecting too much from teenagers.

As for me, I am approaching the new year with some trepidation.  But I hope that my fears will turn out to be like hurricane Earl.  Remember Earl from last year?  At its peak a category 4 storm, by the time it reached up the mid-Atlantic coast, it had veered out to sea, taking its destructive power with it.

We did a lot of praying before and during Irene; we’ll be doing a lot of praying the next few months.

“How Many Colleges Have You Visited?”

15 Aug

I get asked that question a lot.  It is usually accompanied by the questioner’s tone of slight incredulity, along with a tiny shake of the head, raised eyebrows and maybe even a discreet roll of the eyes.  They think I don’t notice but their body language always betrays them.  Perhaps they’re just making conversation, saying something to fill in the awkward gaps.  My response is to laugh nervously and respond too quickly with a remark about being obsessive-compulsive, trying for self-effacing humor to defuse my embarrassment.  I’m feeling defensive even though I know that I have no reason to.

Our family enjoys these college visits (well, maybe my husband is a wee bit tired of them – “Do we really have to visit this college?”  “Yes!”).  But it’s a veritable vacation for me – I don’t have to think about what to make for dinner, shop for groceries, cook the meal, clean up, and start the process all over again the next day.  I don’t have to make the beds (although I don’t make the beds at home either) or clean the bathroom or nag my daughter to clean her bathroom.

When we first started touring schools more than a year ago, there were a lot of unknowns. Are these visits really going to help my daughter decide where to apply?  Which schools should we visit?  What if she falls in love with a college that we hate?  Then, something unexpected happened along the way.  I discovered that after enduring hours of sitting together in a car, driving to unfamiliar places, staying in small hotel rooms, walking around campuses listening to a guide drone on about how great the college is, and listening to admissions officers tell us why their college is different from all the others, we bonded as a family.

After a tour, over a meal at a restaurant we usually de-brief the visit.  There’s a lot of asking of each other, “What did you think?” as impressions and observations are tossed about.  Sometimes there’s surprising unanimity of opinion, and sometimes there are differences of opinion but this back-and-forth discussion results in an informal sorting process.  The colleges have arranged and re-arranged themselves on my daughter’s list of desirability, depending on what we have seen and discussed.  And now that we’ve visited about two-dozen schools, my daughter has become adept at narrowing her choices.  While I don’t know how many schools will be on her final list yet, I believe that by visiting so many colleges, she will avoid applying to too many schools, saving us a few hundred dollars on application fees alone.

I realize that any potential savings is offset by hotel, meals and gasoline expenses.  But then it is impossible to put a price tag on the family time together spent sitting through another information session and grinding out another tour.

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