Staying Alive: The College Tour Experience!

Staying Alive: The College Tour Experience!


College tour pic My mom calls me from New Delhi, India on  Wednesday morning for our weekly chat.

"Hellooo,"I strain to hear her words over the loud noise of the hot-air heating system in the tiny confines of the La Quinta Inn room in Salem, Oregon.

"I'm with Ghena on a college tour." I explain.

"But. . .but, isn't college a year and half away?" she sputters, the mystification clearly audible in her voice.

"It's the search before you apply." I trail off, my voice sounding feeble even to my own ears.

To most South Asian moms, who are the fountain of pragmatism and practicality, a college tour for your high school Junior is a futile and expensive exercise.  What if your kid gets emotionally attached to, say. MIT or Rice, and fails to get in?  Better to visit AFTER you get the admission letters to decide where you wanna go.

I was a staunch proponent of this sense-and-reason approach until last week when my daughter and I did the Pacific Northwestern liberal arts loop.  College counselors say that campus visits are vital because they give your student a feel for what a college is really like.  That's true; but, the four-day trip also proved to be the best bonding experience for my prickly seventeen-year-old and I. (Singing aloud in off-key voices to "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson.  Check!)  It was an opportunity to be alone, away from the tensions and humdrum of home, into a neutral zone, where she and I were on equal footing, both gawking strangers.

Four hours of flying, seven hours of driving, hundreds of cows and lots of greenery

A punishing schedule, yes!  We fly into Portland, Oregon.  Rent an all American car: a 2012 Chrysler.  Drive two hours to the city where the first college we're visiting is located.  Check in at the cheapest, over-crowded business hotel we are lucky to find because all the nice ones were taken by the time we began our college visitation process.  Wake up next day exhausted from a long night, tossing and turning in an familiar bed.  See two colleges the first day.  Drive to a different city the same day.  Check in at another commuter hotel.  See two more colleges the next day.  Drive three hours to a second state.  Scramble at 10 p.m. for dinner at a decent restaurant (wine and beverage license mandatory). Get up next day at 7 a.m. Visit the last two colleges; return the slightly dented car to Thrifty rental; race to catch the last flight back home (every last seat taken because the previous flight has been delayed by two hours.) Whew!

The Long-winded Information Session

So many statistics.  Percentage of students who go abroad.  Percentage who get into graduate school.  Percentage who win the Nobel Peace prize (just kidding!) Percentage of community service hours spent with local organic farms. Number of theatrical productions a year. Number of cappella groups.

Ghena takes copious notes in her handy-dandy notebook, but doesn't obsess.  I sneak in views of my Facebook news feed (oh, envy! My girlfriends are out shopping in downtown San Francisco!) while staving off anxiety about admission rates for applicants.

  The Happy Ending

Six campus visits—spanning different geographic areas, big and small schools, private and public colleges, colleges in cities, college towns and in rural settings—and eight Red Bull cans (for me!) after, my daughter has a pretty good idea of the type of college that would be a good fit for her.  Furthermore, she's honed in her major. Yay!

But my best memories of the trip will be the time our GPS lost its mind and sent us on nine back roads . . .we got lost, got mad, looked at each other and ended up laughing silly when the "arrived at your destination" meant being in front of a cow chewing cud and not a bustling campus in the heart of a big, entertaining city!

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