Helping my daughter with her college search has been an eye-opening experience. Even though I went to college myself, the application process today is nothing like mine was, and here's why:
When my daughter asks me what activities I participated in at school, I tell her, “Not getting mugged.”
It's the truth, that was my after-school focus. There was no little yellow school bus to take me to my high school in Jamaica Queens, New York. Instead, I walked several blocks from my house to the public transportation that would take me past my high school. The route was not the safest, and my mom would warn me every morning to get straight on the bus after my last class – and walk fast.
My only other after school “activity” was working at a bagel shop in my town during the summer of my junior year, and some weekends as a senior. I worked there so I could buy Nike sneakers and Jordache jeans, not because I needed to beef up my resume.
Today, my daughters play varsity sports, participate in community service programs, and have leadership roles in school clubs. But because they haven't received a patent or won a Tony or have yet to overcome great adversity, they worry that their accomplishments – at age 17 – are not substantial enough to impress college admissions.
I was a top student at my high school and took every AP class that was offered. Which is to say I took two AP classes my senior year, the most rigorous schedule a student at my high school could take.
My daughter’s high school starts offering AP classes during sophomore year. It's possible for a student to graduate having taken 10-12 AP classes. My daughter slacked off and only took nine.
Interestingly, all 16 of my credits were transferable and I started college a full semester ahead. However, many of the schools my daughter is looking at will not accept any of her AP classes for credit, only for potential advanced placement.
Growing up in New York as part of a middle class family, my options for college were fairly straight forward. Pick a state school, any state school, and fill out the application. The state schools offered a very good education and, financially, it made sense. My semester tuition at college was less than my daughter’s private preschool tuition.
When I first started this college process with my daughters, I thought how lucky they were to have so many options. They can go to school in any state they want. But not limiting their choices has actually made it overwhelming. Having endless choices can be confusing and it's made them worry about picking the “right” place since they can go anywhere.
When we helped our daughter put together a list of college choices, we evaluated her options based on many factors. Size, location, Greek life, programs offered, etc. are all a part of how she evaluated where to ultimately apply.
Again, with just a list of state schools to choose from, I applied to the highest ranked one on the list. Except for their zip codes, I actually didn’t know what the other differences were between the schools.
I've visited over ten different schools with each of my daughters. We've gone on tours and sat through information sessions. My daughters have even spent the night and taken classes at some schools to see if the learning environment is a good match for them.
As for my college experience, the first time I saw my own college alma mater, where I would spend four years, was the day I arrived as a freshman. My parents and I never visited during the application process, or after I was accepted, even though the school was a just a four hour drive from my house.
I had two loving, involved parents both of whom worked in the education system. They rightly assumed that, based on my grades and my life goals, I would go to college. They didn’t worry about where I would go or offer much advice when applying. When I was accepted to my first-choice school, there were no balloons, streamers, or cakes frosted in the school’s colors. It just was not a big deal.
Did I have the best college experience ever? I would not say that. I might have liked a smaller school with more spirit. But I did have fun, made some life-long friends, and got a quality education – all the things I hope my daughter finds when she goes to college.