Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The College Visitation Game

Well, we made it out to Boston, MA today to look at colleges. Got here early, dropped off our bags at our hotel, and took the “T” (Boston’s subway) to Cambridge, and visited "Haaavaaad." Tomorrow Boston University and then Boston College. Maybe Tufts. Maybe not. Parents are just along for the ride, after all.

Beautiful campus in a fun city, Harvard is a ridiculously competitive school in which to gain entry (duh!), and costs a mere $46K a year. But they were proud to say they are “need-blind” during the admissions process. In other words, don’t worry about how much it costs, just get perfect scores, perfect grades, and perform effortlessly with 50,000 extracurricular activities, and we’ll consider you for one of our 2050 spots each year – of some 23,000 applicants.

But if you earn over $80,000-$100,000 per year, well, suddenly Harvard seems to have 20/20 vision. They see the doctors and the doctors’ kids coming: after all, they can PAY! But, hey, they said, “everything’s included.”

I think they meant tuition, room, and board. Spending money and travel costs to and from home – well, those you get to pick up, too. * Sigh * Now don’t get me wrong in case a few Harvard grads out there are foaming at the mouth – I really have nothing against Harvard, per se, but rather this Spring Break Right of Passage that all of us “good parents” must endure on behalf of our children who want to attend any competitive school.

My son sat through the orientation process and realized they did not cover information on his area of interest: performance music. (Yes, I know, he feels he must avoid medicine like the plague – but then again he REALLY loves classical music and is passionate about it, so what can I do? Ah, but I digress – back to the college visit gig…) He later stopped and asked about their program, and found out there were just 4 student positions here at Harvard for students in this field here. He seems to feel he'd like a new more kids with a similar interest in music, and he also realized that his grades, well, he thinks they might not be competitive after all... But it WAS fun to visit…

After attending these orientation dog and pony shows at several schools this week (and also previously with my older son) I have learned that they’re all pretty much the same. Here’s what they say: “We have a great student body, very diverse, of course, and all are well-rounded student scholars with zillions of interests – all are in the top 10% of high school students, all have average ACT scores of 31-35, all have an average GPA of 4.0, and our school gets about 22,000-28,000 applicants for about 500-4000 spots (depending on the size of the school).” I think the "Common Ap" (the one common electronic application that kids can forward to tons of schools at once) makes it possible for all of these schools to share the same statistics...

Zzzzzzzzzzz. Worthless cr*p, really. I mean, why does EVERY school insist that they are the only ones getting the top 10% of high school students? I’m looking for the one school that says: “yes, folks, we actually accepted someone with a 3.2 grade point average!” Now THAT would be something NEW and INTERESTING!

Anyway, here are my thoughts about this college visitation rat race: if I were to do it all over again, I would likely apply first, then visit campuses.

First of all, my son and I would pick a big, medium and small school that interested him and visit just those to get a feel for what a school of each size is like. We might also pick one public and one private school in the bunch, just to see the difference. And that’s it. Then apply. After acceptance, we'd use the college trip to decide where to go – the city, the size, the people, living arrangements, etc. will be much more pertinent to your child than listening to all of the hype during the pre-application campus visits.

Harkening back to my college admission days, I don’t remember it being like this. In fact I’m sure that with the caliber of kids today and the requirements to gain admission to top undergraduate and graduate colleges today, I’m not sure I would have made the cut. It’s mighty tough out there.

But what I did see today (and several of the preceding days), was the wonderful idealism of so many young minds eager to enter medicine or another health care field: each of them wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to make the commitment to learn their art. Despite all of the changes in our field today, medicine is still held in high esteem by incoming students.

And suddenly I realized that each of them was striving to take my place someday.

And you know what? It instilled in me a sense of calm that it will all be OK when they do. After all, with that kind of boundless enthusiasm and brains, I would look forward to being their patient.


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