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Friday, February 1, 2013

Choosing a College - Part One

For those of you whose children are getting ready to choose which college they'd like to attend, congratulations! If this is your first, you'll be setting off on a journey with them that will in turns inspire you, exasperate you, break your heart, and give you the ultimate satisfaction of seeing this person you've brought into the world go forth to live and love.

Choosing the right college can be tough, though. By now the application process is probably done, and you're waiting for the letters...and the choice.

College is a singular experience - it's the transition between childhood and adulthood. It carries many adult rights and responsibilities, but placed in a context that blends vital challenges, opportunities for unique experiences, and freedoms that won't be there later. It's not just another four years.
  • College will set the tone for life - the classes taken, the activities in which your child participates, will shape their tomorrows. Be sure that the school selected offers the best range - and that means the best range which allows the potential for a radical shift in focus, like the budding engineer deciding to be a playwright.
  • There will be freedom that will not come again - this is generally spelled T-R-A-V-E-L. College kids seem to go everywhere on very little money, and with very little luggage. Some of these trips can change a perspective, and change a life. Try to be sure that these opportunities are preserved, say, by ensuring that the school chosen is not so expensive that it's noit wall-to-wall wpork just to stay there.
  • College is where your cild will find lifetimes friends, and probably a spouse - the shared experiences of these years bring young people together in a way that few other things do, and their unarmored hearts allow them to develop relationships that will be simply impossible in later life. Choose a place where your child will feel challenged, but not out of place.
  • Name can be everything, but how much is everything? - In some professions, the school chosen for the undergraduate degree is what makes the difference between success and mediocrity later. It has nothing to do with the quality of education, or necessarily "who you know". It's just the name. Journalism is like this. Engineering, typically not. (However - be aware that there the Old Boy Network still exists...the opportunities that will be available to a Main Line Philadelphian who attends Vanderbilt on family legacy will not be conferred on the rural Kansan who gets in by merit.)
  • Beware the "Party School" - a school with a public reputation for hard partying will generally expose your child to underage drinking, drug use, and other things you'd rather not see.
  • Beware the "Weeder School" - at the other end of the spectrum is the school that presents itself as being so academically stern that only the best will prevail. This is presumptuous hogwash. Some majors require more savvy than others, but a high percentage of failing students only means that the teachers aren't really interested in teaching, so they hide behind a voodoo mask of academic rigor. Don't for a minute be taken in by these posers. They delight in ruining students' self-confidence, and in stunting lives.
  • Try to avoid coed dorms - if the only dorms available are coed, I'd go so far as to say, look elsewhere. Coed living is more than most 18-22 year olds can handle. It';s a kind of forced, artificial intimacy that deans like to parrott as a "growing experience". It's just 60s hippie-dippy Free Love licentuousness...what the 60-year-old administrators wish they had. In the years I taught at the college level, NOTHING caused more heartbreak than the "coed dorm experience".
  • Sports are good! - it's great if a school has a winning football or basketball team...attending games provides a lot of school spirit taht will be remembered in later years.
Enough generalities. Tomorrow we'll look at the most important question of all - faith. It's the most important question for two reasons. The first is that higher education can deliberately strip a young person of their faith, based on pressure and ridicule...and it's also a basic question of freedom.

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