Over the years I have done a lot of advising but as we move in to this year, I have the opportunity to take on a new perspective. This year, my daughter Madison, will graduate from high school. Added to the fact that she is now a Senior, she also lives in Malaysia. We’ve been talking about college for a long time; she is obviously interested in what her dad does and what I think.
Working with someone from afar is a bit of challenge, yet over the years, I have worked successfully with students in the US, Abu Dhabi and other places. Trying to talk to one’s daughter is a whole new ball game and so is the college application process. It has challenged my perspective, but not in a bad way.
This summer we spent two weeks, basically driving from Boston to San Francisco. We had an agenda and we had a time limit. We needed to be in certain places at certain times. Basically, we needed to get from point A to point B within a time frame. That was my big regret; not being able to take our time as we went through parts of the US I had never seen and it was the same with my daughter. We missed a lot of what makes different places tick. To eat the food, see the sights – Elvis Presley’s Graceland or the music of Memphis. We did see a lot of the country and some great schools.
Now that the introduction is in place I need to get to the heart of the story. My daughter is a great kid, an average student with lots of interesting stories. Getting her to tell those stories is another thing. I learned a lot about my kid this summer. Spending 10 hours in a car zooming from one destination to another brings out some characteristics that one knows, but also gets to experience.
She has always been shy and reserved. That became clear, how much like me she was, even though I already knew that. But going around to visit schools, walking on campuses, talking to student guides and admission representatives brings a whole new light to being a parent and a completely different perspective as a college counselor.
The schools we visited typically don’t fall on student’s lists. After visiting I cannot not really imagine why. They were all unique, fantastic educational institutions, where students are not only fully engaged in their education but inspired by faculty and other students. Schools like Emmanuel in Boston, Salve Regina in Rhode Island, Drew University in New Jersey, Allegheny and Washington & Jefferson in Pennsylvania, College of Charleston in South Carolina, University of Redlands and University of San Francisco all left an indelible impression on us both.
What was interesting were the takeaways my daughter had after each visit. She was looking for schools with good proportion of international students (she is American, but has barely lived there). She wanted slightly bigger class sizes, thinking she learns better in that environment. She liked the freedom to choose whether she would major or minor, not schools that told which areas she could or could not study. (One school we visited required students to major and minor but they could not be in the same academic area). She also changed ideas about majors three times over the course of two weeks. We started with Biology; she changed to International Relations and ended with Communications. A year ago it was Pre-Veterinarian and she only wanted California. Now it was places with four seasons.
To say the least, I came away even more convinced that visiting schools changes kids – it changed both of us. I saw it right before my eyes. I also came away more convinced that rank is the worst thing in helping a student choose schools. Yes, I know I said my daughter was an average student, but she studies in an excellent school and is earning the requisite education there. What impressed me most over those two weeks was the quality of education each of these institutions provided and the creative energy of the students at each of those schools. True, each school is not highly ranked but wow – one has to see it to believe it.
Seeing and experiencing schools through a parent’s eyes is different. I wish I could force all my students to go visit schools with their parents; to go unbridled by ranking and rumor to truly experience what schools offer. Students at each of these schools and hundreds of others are game-changers. They are going to be amazing, but we need to be open to understand the variety and form that schools educate in. Only then can we help encourage our children to seek, experience and delve into a future of their own making.