Welcome to Thorn & Vine blog and a special dual post about what we learned from our college tours this summer. If you missed the first article, find it HERE all about key Do’s and Don’ts to prepare you for the tours. This week, we’re focusing on things that really took my breath away or pleasantly surprised me on the trips we took. One crazy thing, you’ll NEVER believe – or maybe you will? I sure didn’t…is below.
What surprised me the most?
- How important SATs are for admission and also for scholarship consideration. I knew they were considered, of course, but most schools – whether public or private – rate this even higher than the essay, school grades, recommendations (if they even take them), and activities. It’s not universal, but the SAT/ACTs were stressed much more than back in my day.
- How different each campus felt – some were much more personal and at others we felt like a number. Some very large campuses were able to recommend great ways to connect and have a good experience. But others felt more like commuter campuses and your student needs to know most big campuses in big cities can be pretty empty on the weekends/holidays and will either be okay with that or not. Don’t miss the opportunity to discuss this before they set their hopes on a big school that’s empty on the weekends, especially if it’s an out-of-state option.
- How tiring taking in all the information – and the very hot weather – was in any location. I thought in smaller areas we could do two campuses per day, but that was not at all realistic. We met other families pushing hard to do one or one and a half (driving tour) per day and they really wished they’d done more research and gone deeper at certain campuses. You should have seen their eyes when I shared about us getting to meet with current students! It’s a shame to miss that option after you’ve flown in from far away! But, happily, you won’t have to after reading this. (Read the first post to understand how to reach out to club directors, committees, or groups on campus HERE).
- How important protesting and free expression is at some campuses. We saw rows of crosses protesting abortion; then lots of rainbows, posters, and signs espousing expression; and booths about vaping, every kind of protest to sign up for, surfing lessons, debates, and speakers coming to campus. Other schools did not stress this at all and felt more traditional. Each school had its own approach and you do see more of this real-life flavor with a school-year visit rather than during summer.
- How differently kids dress at each campus. It’s helpful to walk with your student on the campus tour, because while they’re listening and looking at buildings, you can look at the kids. And here’s what surprised me the most: at ++two++ premiere colleges (not naming names) we saw ladies without any pants, skirts, long tops, or shorts on. Yep, it was underwear and a shirt to right by the hips. NOT a dress in any form. And also not a swim suit as this was far from the ocean, beach, or gym. One lady was laying on the grass giving everyone, ahem, a show. At a different campus, one exited a building carrying her backpack, walked in front of the tour, and climbed on her bike wearing panties and a shirt to the hips. Is your student (and are you) comfortable with the amount of free expression, even very little clothing? It’s worth discussing in advance.
- How a lot of dorms are structured for very little closet space and commonly have three students per room to help reduce fees. Some rooms were so small the kids could reach out and touch each other when in beds that were raised up two levels on tottering crates so that clothes and boxes could be stored underneath them. This was very common at lots of schools and – it’s pretty cramped! AND some schools don’t have air conditioning in the dorms – do ask about that! It’s easy to miss this important detail and fans may not cut it in a heat wave.
- How different the dorm rules vary per campus. It is important to have a realistic perspective on what dorm life is like. Some have group living and are sectioned female/male by floor or wing and have hours when the other sex isn’t allowed to be there. One had very strict rules about never allowing the other sex in the rooms but had nice common areas to gather. Others have no rules at all and we’ve heard stories that would curl your hair! We will recommend an overnight stay for the top three choices he narrows in on and to which he is accepted. Have those talks NOW with your student – what are they comfortable with? What do they need to thrive? Is a party atmosphere going to help them reach for their dreams or will that matter at all?
- How social media is taking a greater role than some detailed questionnaires in roommate selection. There’s usually a Facebook group they can join once they’re accepted and they can connect with a potential roommate there and correspond online before ever committing on paper. Some become friends well before school begins by finding common interests and being candid about their habits and needs (Late nighter? Can you have friends over? Throw parties? Grades are most important?). The current students at each campus we visited really favored the Facebook connection over the more impersonal questionnaire. It’s really important that your student is HONEST on the forms or you’ll end up with someone who smokes, or will make your life difficult instead of fun that first year into school.
I hope these tips will serve you well in walking your child into adulthood. Please connect with me on Facebook or Instagram – and we can go through this together, friend! It’s such a big adjustment and I’m grateful we decided to invest in being intentional (kind of my theme or life-goal as you know). It was a lot of work and tiring going to so many colleges but it made for great discussions. Instead of us pushing our child a certain way, now he’s discovered a real potential interest and we’ve taught him how to research options. Even if you can’t travel out of state, you can visit local options both large and small within a driving distance. Give them the tools to find their dreams. Now, let’s support one another as we (rather teary eyed) have to let them find their wings and fly!
Bless you on your journey! Please subscribe to my newsletter for more life-tips like this, spots of beauty, great reads for your kids and teens, updates about my fiction and nonfiction writing, and inspiring interviews with people who will give you a fresh perspective on the challenges life brings. And most of all, come join others who want to remain faithful to discover that thread of resilience that can give fuel to your quest to live with intentionality and hope.
Elizabeth Van Tassel writes compelling middle-grade fantasy and nonfiction with a theme of resilience. She brings her knowledge and expertise in the field of gemology to the page and infuses her love of folklore into modern adventures filled with mystery. A wildfire survivor, Elizabeth also understands the both power of loss and the power of hope. And she’s always on the hunt for a great story. Elizabeth currently resides in the Bay Area with her husband and two sons. She can be found wandering the gardens of Filoli House, enjoying her favorite coffee shops, and engaging with other writers.