• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

The Search Continues...

Visiting colleges.

 

April 3, 2018
 
 


This week is Spring Break for The Boy and The Girl. It doesn’t align with most colleges’ spring breaks, including my own, because that would take some of the sport out of it.  (I don’t get a spring break anyway, but the point still stands.) This year, though, the mismatch is actually an opportunity in an annoying disguise.  We’re going on a college visit.

TB’s girlfriend is a senior, so he has had a front-row seat watching her navigate the selective college search process.  That helped demystify things for him, and to update my 1980’s era impressions. Last Fall we even went on a few visits, covering Boston (BU and Northeastern) and Pittsburgh (U of Pitt).  This week we’re heading to UVA.

This is how academics spend vacation days. 

I’ve heard that Charlottesville is a cute little town, and that the UVA campus is lovely.  I’m picturing Ann Arbor with a Sou

thern accent. We’ll see.But the real fun is watching TB react to what he sees.I’ve had an odd tour of American higher education over the years: undergrad at a selective private SLAC in New England, grad at a flagship state university, first job at a for-profit, then jobs at three community colleges in two states.  And that’s not counting places I’ve visited over the years, whether as a prospective student, a friend, a family member, a job applicant, or a guest speaker.
TB hasn’t.  He’s in high school. 

The first few visits last Fall were eye-openers for both of us. Having spent the last fifteen years at community colleges, I was struck by the unfathomable wealth of the places we visited, as well as the unfathomable tuition. TB didn’t really see either of those. He was focused on the feel of each place, as well as the opportunities for pre-med students. I noticed the public transportation; he noticed the wifi.  I noticed the adjunct percentages; he noticed the food. Between the two of us, I like to think we each added something.

But high school years move quickly. His frame of mind is evolving from “hey, wow, I’m on a college visit!” to “how does this one compare to that one?”  It’s starting to become real.

His girlfriend has received her acceptances, waitlist notifications, and rejections, as well as her various financial aid offers.  She’s narrowing the field to a single choice. He’s providing a supportive ear as she rides the emotional waves of a major life decision, which is as it should be.  He does that because he cares about her, but as a side benefit, he also gets a preview of the sorts of questions he’ll need to field next year. They’re less scary when you know they’re coming.

The major impression I hope he comes away with, as the search process unfolds, is that most of the places he looks at would be more than fine. And most of what he’d really like to know -- the friends he’ll make, the life-changing experiences he’ll have -- are necessarily unknowable at this point.  They’re accidents of history. The best he can do is to make himself accident-prone. Some settings lend themselves more than others.

So, off to Virginia we go.  I’ll be taking a writing break for the rest of the week so I can be fully present during the trip.  The blog will be back on Monday. Yes, Virginia, there is a TB. He’s on his way, and you’d be lucky to have him.  
 

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