An American Rite of Passage: The College Campus Tour

We have a 17-year old in the house.

Who, by the grace of God, will be OUT the house around this time next year. 

A few weeks ago, in order to lay the groundwork for this event, I spent an entire morning looking at university websites, trawling through an ocean of information about admissions guidelines, college majors, deadlines, and financial aid. While I was gathering all this data, I thought it wise to start collecting it in a nifty spreadsheet, and so a new project was born. 

Then I was thinking: Isn’t that something my 17-year old should be doing? The one who’ll actually get to GO to university? Maybe herein lies the fatal flaw. Maybe it should be ME who gets to go there instead, considering I’m putting in all the work, and considering that I’m way more excited about it than he is. Maybe all this education is wasted on the young, who really have no clue what it is they should be studying, and who can’t be bothered to take a long enough break from their all-important games on their iPhones to invest in their own college search.

So I did what all mothers with a Facebook account do: I posted this very question – who should do the university application work – for all the world to see, and waited for some advice.

In came in plentiful abundance. 

Some maintained that the kids should do the work (
Made my boys fill out their own applications”), but those were a minority. The large majority expressed what I mostly feel as well, that you have to do the work you want done, or it simply won’t be done. (Filled in all the applications and sent the necessary certified paperwork! I even chose the degrees that they are doing!” was one such piece of advice.) 

If I were an economist or Malcolm Gladwell, I’d now do a study and monitor these families over the next ten years, to see which kids fared better – those whose mothers left it to them to do the work versus those whose mothers spent late nights pouring over online applications and endless pages of class descriptions. Oh, the luxury of hindsight!

In the meantime, I’m choosing the path of least resistance, which is me doing the work and my son tagging along.

That’s how you could recently find me on a campus tour (organized by me!), glued to the side of our guide and peppering her with the questions I knew my son wouldn’t ask. 

It was a pretty day and a beautiful campus. Leafy trees, gorgeous brick buildings, winding paths, a bell tower, a library to die for (with a Starbucks inside it; a STARBUCKS, people!), the whole place oozing tradition and privilege.

If I had to pick a place I would have to live out the rest of my
days, I’d pick an American college campus. You can’t go wrong.
Chairs awaiting the graduation ceremony – black gowns, pomp
and circumstance, hats in the air, the works!
This one’s easy, but can you correctly place the other ones?

All the while, I was taking mental notes (and also furtive real ones on my phone) of the tour group around us. I am a writer, after all, and observing people is my main vocation. 

There was Pretty Girl in tight and very short shorts with super-long eyelashes and bright lipstick, chewing gum and acting bored. I nicknamed her Veruca Salt (as in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). There was a boy in an Alabama football shirt with unkempt hair who looked like he came directly from football practice, and all his questions were about sports. My guess is he’ll end up going to the University of Alabama and not this fine institution we were visiting. Then there was the obligatory mother every such group from the beginning of mankind has featured, asking about the size of the bathrooms in the dorms. That was her only question. And then there was Hippie Girl with her arms crossed, awkwardly stepping from one foot to the other, accompanied by what looked like her great-grandfather. All in all, I felt, had they picked students based on presentability and interest alone right then and there, my son would have had a pretty good chance of getting in.

The College Campus Tour may be an American rite of passage, but the way I see it it’s one giant boondoggle. A boondoggle for the parents, mind you, considering that at least this family’s teenage boy can’t be bothered to get excited about going on one. 

Which is fine by me. He can stay home for all I care, while I go off touring American cities with suitable restaurants and nightlife – excuse me, universities. 

Who wants to come along?

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