32: Tour de College Campus

32: Tour de College Campus

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

Tour de College Campus

Indecision becomes decision with time.

~Author Unknown

As our tour group hiked across the main quad, she lagged behind to pan the scene. Video camera smashed against her forehead, she zoomed in on the stately mustard-colored brick buildings. Next, she focused her lens on our tour guide, a confident junior who speed-walked backward and talked nonstop.

“This is the Science Building,” he informed us. “Totally renovated last year. Any undergrad may conduct research under full professors. Stunning discoveries happening here on sea cucumbers. Do a semester abroad on any continent except Antarctica, and still graduate pre-med in four years. We have hundreds of activities on campus, but if you don’t find the club you want, track down four other people and start it yourself!”

Video Mom recorded our walk down the empty hallway, then our entrance into the biology lab lined with algae-laced aquariums. It wasn’t hard to spot her son. He was the one trying to blend into the wall tiles, staring straight down like he was planning to major in shoelaces.

“I may ask questions, but I don’t video!” I whispered to my son.

Our countless dinner table conversations crystallized here on the campus visit. After months focused on college guidebooks, essays and SATs, transcripts and teacher recommendations—it was show time.

Moms and dads walked across campus, trying to imagine their sons or daughters living here — on their own, away from home. Will Ben ever hang up his wet towel? Or study with no one telling him to? Will Kaitlin get along with a roommate? We’ve seen more friend drama in high school than the entire theater department!

The students were full of questions, too. Will I get in? Do I even want to be accepted here? Is there anyone here who looks like me? What if I hate it? What if I flunk out? Who am I going to live with? How am I going to fit my stuff in a room the size of a closet? I wish I could move in today!

The information sessions answered some questions, but created more. “If your student is undecided on a major, that’s great! Seventy-five percent of all students change their major at least once! Your student will likely switch careers at least seven times in his or her work life! Look around you—most of our students find their future mate here on campus! Reserve the chapel way ahead, it books up years in advance!”

I gulped. Sending my firstborn to college was hard enough without adding the stress of a future in-law.

For us, campus visits before knowing if your student was accepted had a different feel than the special days for admitted students many colleges offer in the spring. In the junior year, or senior fall, everything is possible. In the spring, the choices are real and defined. Attending our first admitted student day, we scanned the other high school students in the cafeteria eating institutional scrambled eggs. Imagine, that guy could be his roommate! Could the girl in front of us in line become a close friend?

As we rode hotel elevators and waited for breakout sessions in student centers, we started running into families on the same circuit.

“Weren’t we in the same tour group last week in Iowa?” a mom asked me.

“I knew you looked familiar!” We chatted like old friends as our offspring slinked into the background.

Colleges design campus visits with as much care as the slick brochures that flood the mailboxes of high school students. On the covers, autumn leaves softly fall year-round on smiling students. They stroll across a sunny campus, un-stressed by papers, midterms, or roommate problems.

However, sometimes it rains. Or snows. On one campus visit, a persistent cold rain fell the entire day. At the coffee table, a concerned admissions representative noted that bad weather on a visit day definitely cuts the “yield” of potential students. “We have 299 days of sunshine here. Why not today?” he moaned.

A bored, cranky or hung over tour guide also can make a student—or parent—cross that campus right off the list. But if the tour guide mentions your student’s favorite activities, the opposite reaction can occur.

“Here’s where the guys all play Guitar Hero... we have all-night Mafia card parties in this lounge... our floor is so close and our RA is awesome... I’ve never taken a class before 10 A.M... our floor won the flag football championship. It’s incredible — all of our games start between 10 P.M. and midnight.”

Soon the buildings and admissions spiels ran together into one giant campus. In between official events, we tried to coax clues from our son. What did you think of this? How do you feel about that? But his mind was back home—figuring out his prom date or texting friends about playing Frisbee golf the next day.

We all were relieved when it was time to drive home after the last visit. Our next college trip would be to orientation, or freshman move-in day.

“Remember the mom when we were touring the dorm at that school in Texas?” My son laughed. “She wanted to know if the college would assign who got which bed.”

“The classic moment was when that kid started snoring during the chemistry department session,” my husband added.

“When we get home, it’s time to do those pro and con lists,” I reminded my son. “If only we had made a video!”

~Sue Lowell Gallion

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