31: Finding the Right Fit

31: Finding the Right Fit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Getting In...To College

Finding the Right Fit

It is a wise father that knows his own child.

~William Shakespeare

My parents knew from the moment I brought home Cornell’s glossy full-color brochure that I would hate it. Even with the university’s J.Crew catalog-inspired photos of kids gathered around a fireplace, playing on a perfect blanket of white snow and engaged in other wholesome Ivy League activities, they knew that upstate New York was not the place for me. Even after I read a book by one of Cornell’s leading women’s studies professors, they knew that four years in upstate New York would be four years too many for a city girl accustomed to four-story bookstores, multiplex movie theaters, and a Starbucks on every corner.

Still, I was convinced that Cornell’s rural surroundings and rigorous academics would mold me into the kind of intelligent, inquisitive woman I hoped to become.

Mom had said several times, “We want you to go to a good college, but I don’t think you’ll be happy at Cornell.”

To which I pleaded, course catalog clutched to my chest, “Can’t I just visit it and see for myself?”

“How many flights do you think they have from Seattle to Ithaca?” my mother answered. “Not too many.”

“But students come from all over the world,” I countered. “There has to be a way to get out there.”

“Trust me, you won’t like it.”

Before she could launch into her speech about the virtues of her alma mater, how Simmons has an excellent communications program right in Boston and how this writer and that senator had done just fine at a women’s college, Dad joined the discussion.

“This is silly,” he announced. Usually a man of few words, my Dad only interrupted our mother-daughter debates when he had something really important to say. And we listened. “She’ll never believe us until she sees it for herself. Let’s humor her, and then we can move on to places she’ll actually want to go, like NYU or Boston University.”

“Who’s going to accompany her on this fun little trip to the country?” asked my mother, always fixating on details.

“I will,” he volunteered. And that was that.

• • •

That spring, instead of jetting off to a warm, sunny locale like Hawaii, where my parents always said they would go for a second honeymoon, or to a thriving historic city like Philadelphia, father and daughter boarded a cramped plane bound for Ithaca, New York. The town wasn’t warm or sunny or particularly thriving, but if Dad was disappointed he never voiced a complaint. Ever.

“What should we do first? Do you want to drive around campus?” he asked.

I noticed immediately that the campus didn’t look quite as welcoming and sunny as the photos in the brochure. Partway to the center of campus, our Honda Civic rental car was blocked by a group of students protesting in favor of the Kyoto treaty, an environmental policy which had hitherto eluded my consciousness. This was not the preppy oasis I pictured, where students discussed philosophy and literature over lattes, and reserved yelling for football games, but I refused to admit that half an hour into our trip.

A perpetual good sport, Dad said it reminded him of his college years. “Harvard, Yale, MIT, tear down the schools of the bourgeoisie!” he chanted, tapping the steering wheel in time. “Hey, there’s something catchy about that chant.”

The next day, we joined dozens of other eager parents and students on the traditional campus tour. Though it was already mid-April, our guide wore a wool pea coat, a funky scarf and the Birkenstocks that seemed to set the campus-wide standard in footwear. Rubbing her hands together for warmth, she lead us from one Gothic building to the next, commenting on the students’ affinity for winter sports and the school’s origins as an agricultural college.

As an aspiring journalist, I asked about the communications program in a last ditch attempt at redeeming the trip. She explained that it had begun as a school for local farmers to learn about reporting. “Even today, we’re more interested in The Farmer’s Almanac than The Financial Times,” she quipped.

I was not impressed, and by the time she pointed out the bridge where “at least one student takes the plunge each semester during finals,” I was ready to admit that this definitely wasn’t the school for me.

Dad knew before my chattering teeth could form the words. “I think we’ve seen enough. Do you want to get some coffee instead?” he whispered conspiratorially mid-tour.

I hesitate to admit this next part, because I went on to become a campus guide myself, but Dad and I ditched the tour. We slunk to the back of the group and, as soon as our guide turned to cross the street, ran in the opposite direction.

Safely tucked inside what was probably the only Starbucks for twenty miles, we had a good laugh about our ill-fated trip.

“Can you believe that story about the bridge?” he said, giggling like a college girl at a party. “Is their suicide rate supposed to be a selling point?”

“I know!” I took another sip of my peppermint hot chocolate, preparing to swallow my pride and admit I’d been wrong. “And Dad, you and Mom were right about Cornell. What was I thinking? I would never go to a school that was this far from civilization.”

The following week, Dad took me to visit Boston University. And just as he’d predicted, BU fit me perfectly.

~Susan E. Johnston

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