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Guest Blogger: Gigi Collins

25 Apr

If it’s April showers, it must be spring break when hordes of prospective students and their parents descend on universities and colleges on the obligatory “college tour.”  For those of you who have not done this yet, you might enjoy reading about my friend Gigi Collins‘ experience of taking her daughter on her first college trip.

Getting Energized

I have really enjoyed reading this blog about parenting a college bound teen and I have been thinking “Whew! I have a sophomore so I don’t have to freak out just yet.”  Until now.

This spring, as a sophomore, my daughter had to sign up for her junior year classes.  Oh, the stress and tears!  She was told “you must take x number of AP classes to even think about applying to the good schools.”  Next came the alphabet soup of standardized tests: PSAT/NMSQT, SAT, ACT, SAT II, AP.  Last came the advice on writing a killer application essay, to include unique community service credits, extraordinary extracurriculars, and oh, don’t forget, a summer job or two.  I’m only the parent and I could feel a migraine coming on.  But I could see that my daughter was anxious too.  She met with her advisor three times to hammer out her two-year AP class plan and she has already lined up her summer job.

So what did I do?  I decided that we’d go visit some colleges on her spring break.  Yes, you are probably thinking I need my head examined.  I thought so too…until we went on the visits.

I used the excuse of visiting a friend in the Philadelphia suburbs and we picked two colleges “on the way” to “stop by and have a look see.”  Of course, my daughter gave me her best teenage glare and stated that I was ruining her spring break.  She wanted to relax and not think about colleges.

Our first stop was the University of Pennsylvania.  We wanted to see an Ivy League school and a city campus.  We were expecting buildings and streets but were pleasantly surprised to find that Penn has a real campus, with enclosed quads and pedestrian-only walkways.  My daughter was impressed with the beautiful architecture and the collegiate feel.  Our tour guide was a junior at the business school and he was approachable and smart.  We attended the information session where an admissions officer gave an awesome presentation about Penn history, curriculum, as well as the admissions process.  She actually had a calming influence on my daughter as she spoke frankly about what Penn was looking for – top grades, essays that show your personality, and future leadership ability.  She said that the SAT/ACT scores were not as important in the big picture so not to stress over the test or re-take them unnecessarily.

I could see my daughter visibly relax.  She leaned over and whispered to me, “I think college is going to be exciting.”  Whoa, did I hear that right?  Maybe we’ll get through the college search still talking to each other.  I was feeling like I did something right as a parent of a teenager.  Sweet.

At Penn, my daughter saw that a big university with all its amenities like grants for special studies or international opportunities could still have a small intimate college feel.  Yes, she did buy a Penn t-shirt.

Next stop was Villanova University, private Catholic university in the Philadelphia suburbs.  We had high expectations since we thought a mid-sized college with a “real campus” would be a better fit.  My daughter first noticed that the students seemed younger and more casual than at Penn.  An excitable admissions officer ran the information session and he tried to lighten the mood with banter but we felt that he was trying too hard to sell us on Villanova.  Our enthusiastic tour guide was a freshman from Hawaii and he showed us around the impressive campus.  My daughter really liked the engineering building with the exposed beams and ductwork.  She got to see a lecture hall and the labs in the science building.  Most of the students at Villanova come from the Tri-State and New England area, making the college more of a regional school.

Before our college trip, my daughter seemed stressed and unenthusiastic about looking at colleges.  After our trip, she had a big smile on her face and she is now very motivated to look for the best college fit for her.  Ah, relief…until we start filling out the applications!

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