Tag Archives: college planning

California Trip Part 1

California Trip Part 1

Last week I left my home town for a drive to California and back with my daughters, me the sole driver and lots to do on the ground, so not much time to write. I  feel like I’m seeing too much too fast, and at a shallow level, that I can’t do any of it justice in print. For once we’ve arrived at our stopover before bedtime, so here I am.

As for schools, so far we’ve toured Santa Clara University, University of California Santa Cruz, Occidental College, and Chapman University. We will do our duty and visit the appropriate home state campuses later, as well as several in Canada. We’re trying to see what each offers and discern the mission and priorities of each and see if the ones that cost so much more would still be worth applying to. Of course Canada’s the best deal by sticker price, but my daughter so wants to study in California. #1 pick so far is UC Santa Cruz, second Santa Clara. More on our impressions later.

I spent all of a day and a half planning the itinerary before leaving, which took care of the first four days: basically a straight run south on the interstate, munching baby carrots and listening to audiobooks to stay alert, a stopover at Grant’s Pass, then down to Santa Clara, where we started our campus tours. Between Santa Clara and UCSC we had booked a rare open campsite at Manresa State Beach near Santa Cruz, where we slept to the sound of surf and woke to the shriek of a frustrated hawk. As I sat by the tent in the morning I discovered that the whole area under the campsite had been colonized by ground squirrels. Right after a posse of kids finished their umpteenth bike race down the sandy trail, up popped a little head and paws started tossing sand out of a tunnel that had been crushed–industrious little thing, though maybe short sighted. The night before I was reminded of my need to restrain my tendency to complain and snap at others when I’m tired, can’t find my flashlight or toothbrush, and feel like I’m doing all the hard work. Especially when I’m supposed to be an example to young’uns feeling the same things. Welcome back to camping charm school.

A treat for the girls was a two night stay at USA Hostels of Hollywood (intro to world youth travel). It looked a little sketchy on arrival but turned out to be very clean, very comfortable, and very conveniently located. My daughters really noticed the jump in the “cool factor” of their fellow guests. We strolled down the Walk of Stars (realized it was no big deal after all), visited Madame Tussaud’s, had excellent service and burgers at In ‘N Out, went to the Hollywood Bowl for an L.A. Philharmonic concert, and experienced the creativity and weirdness of walking back to the hostel down Hollywood Boulevard at 11 pm. It was nice not to have to pack up after that first night, and I was able to find some time to start planning the northward journey.

When my daughter proposed this mother-daughter trip I found the idea intriguing but overwhelming, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that even with one driver and a last minute itinerary, things can work out so well. So far not a bad accommodation, other drivers have been easy to get along with, and it’s amazing how many cool places we’ve been able to see. The night drive through the pass into L.A. with everyone but the trucks going seventy-five mph or more and occasionally drifting into my lane was intense—I couldn’t let the girls talk to me or play music because it took so much concentration.

We’ve eaten well from groceries, free hotel breakfasts, and local eateries along the way, and even picked up a few bargains (clothes in a cafe!). Yes, the world seems smaller, more accessible to all of us. With fewer fellow travelers (than our last family trip to CA), planning is simpler. The actual travel has worked out well—the van navigation system (“Bridget”) worked great and we had no trouble finding our destinations. On the way back we’re taking a more windy route–once we got to Sacramento we headed into the mountains and stopped to swim and picnic at Lake Tahoe, then zigzagged down the other side, drove up through citrus and nut groves and then wheat and ranch acreage, bought cherries and peaches by the roadside, and stayed in Yuba City (another well-kept, East Indian-run, independent motel). Today we crossed into Oregon and drove up to Crater Lake, where we saw those fabulous views, interacted with the local chipmunks and Clark’s nutcrackers (gray, back and white birds), and were then shrouded in mist and pummeled with rain down the other side of the pass.

Tomorrow it’s to Portland (hopes of getting in on a tour stand by at U of Portland) then out to the Olympic Peninsula (We’ve never been there), where we hope to snag a first-come, first-served campsite, and then home, where we’ll be back with the boys, and it will be back to morning swims, regular chores and responsibilities, picking berries and beans, and the job search.



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Wrapping up college applications and comparisons

When my oldest son joined us in the airport arrivals area, he said we had all got taller, except me–I looked a little shorter, he said. Which reminded me of times I had felt that very same thing on seeing my family after an absence–some kind of manifestation of relative expansion into the significance of a developing life. Or possibly it is more about parents being imprinted on one’s early memory as large, in relative stature as well as in influence, until, voila! there they stand, looking very small and ordinary to the adult progeny.

Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, is now my son’s college of choice. If he gets accepted there, it will be tough to break it to the Grandma and Grandpa here, who have their hearts quietly set on Whitworth. My daughter saw my mother-in-law’s face when I was telling the family at dinner what my son had liked about Acadia, and she said her expression was very controlled. My father-in-law shared with us what a difference Whitworth had made in his life when he studied there, then coached and taught P.E. My mother-in-law said–jokingly—is what if he meets and marries some wonderful Nova Scotian girl, and decides to live there, so far away? Like I did, basically, depriving my parents of regular contact with their grandchildren. Another way to look at it, though, is don’t we then owe my parents some time with at least one grandchild?

The Acadia tour was led by two students, and my son was struck by how many of the others they met along the way that they knew personally. Also by the quality of the computer science program (they also have a great education program) and the scale of the campus. He told me that he loved the opportunity to be closer to my side of the family for a few years–my parents, sister and brother-in-law, niece, and brother all live within an hour of Acadia–as well as to be immersed in a Canadian way of looking at the world. Also, he wants diversity. Whitworth, he said, limited diversity, first by being expensive, and second by being Christian. My husband an I are both very aware of how narrow and sometimes even intellectually dishonest an “orthodox” world view can be. And there’s so much of value to learn from folks with other points of view and life experiences. As for the opening up of other cans of worms such as exposure to lifestyles and philosophies that he, and/or we, would find immature, unhealthy, or dysfunctional, I have confidence that not only will he maintain his integrity, but he’ll be a good influence. I hope I’ll feel the same about all my children as they get to that stage, that they are ready to go out there and be light and salt, and when they make mistakes, that they’ll be okay.

While he was away we had some really interesting conversations with two of his cousins who went to an evangelical Christian college in state. What they shared confirmed in both my husband and me that a conservative Christian college probably wasn’t the best option for our son. This wasn’t the intention of my nieces, of course. These sisters have completely different personalities–one, a self-admitted compliant child and introvert, admitted that she sought the cultural shelter of the Christian campus and needed that for a few years, and the other, a self-admitted strong-willed child, who originally wanted nothing to do with Christian schooling, went in to be challenged and to challenge, feeling–this is my between-the-lines interpretation–that she needed the loving constraints of the campus covenant and close knit Christian community as a kind of spiritual discipline.

So we’re waiting for the mail, now. Whitworth and another college (low priority) have sent acceptances. This is so exciting. Even though all of our lives will change with one leaving for college, I’m looking forward to seeing him make his way, and expect he will do well.

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Posted by on April 6, 2015 in Education, Religion & Spirituality


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The pre-launch sequence

“Oh my God,” I told my daughter, is meant to be a prayer, or at least some kind of real communication, and I asked her again not to use it like a verbal shove. Maybe by objecting I am further disempowering (spell check suggests “disemboweling”) myself as any kind of influence in that direction.

When I later realized that I was the only one in the house and that I might have another half hour of complete quiet, that prayer came up for me (How long, O Lord?).

I’ve been so busy working up schedules and itineraries for oldest son’s college visits,  filling out college applications, FAFSA, SAT, ACT and transcript related forms.Our method, instead of researching and visiting colleges in my son’s junior year and last summer summer, has become this: apply to lots of colleges just in case before their deadlines, then try to catch up on visits and further research.

Other hours spent catching up on library, bank, school, magazine, and non-profit accounts and news feeds, pecking away at the stack of receipts and other to-dos in the box I keep stashing by my bed. When I tear myself away to read or write, I always seem to have only a partial vision of any particular piece of writing, and fizzle out with fatigue. Aiming for completion, word quantity, authentic voice (avoiding of contrivance, attempt to be “good” or clever) and regularity, and achieving little. Also not liking the effect of too much screen time on my eyes and muscle tone, wondering if a voice recorder might be useful, as I walk, run, drive, sometimes hearing the voice that might want to be recorded on screen or paper.

Always a little something to write about substitute teaching: I subbed in three schools last week, three the week before. In one last week, I linked in to a middle school student conversation over lunch about how much these girls appreciated it when teachers did what they said they would do–hand back papers, post grades, etc.—and troubled themselves to be organized enough to follow through. Being nice, cool, smart, not enough.

At a high school I was surprised and pleased that I’d been entrusted with a stoichiometry lesson, along with a session on Darwin’s evolutionary theories. What a range of levels of understanding there was, and also several students not intending on doing any work at all. One I referred to admin for followup. Always wanting to follow those students myself—not out of sight, out of mind—to see if I can help them their come up with a workable plan. Something other than filling a seat. I expressed my willingness to subsequent classes to help anyone with the material—and it was challenging—and unwillingness to let anyone interfere with others’ success. Yeah, stock material, but I believe it. Later that day, showing a video on the physics of speed, i learned an interesting fact about running; that the difference between a fast runner and a slow one is not pace; that’s pretty much the same for everyone because of the mechanics of the body. It’s in the force with which the runner hits/pushes against the ground, which determines the length of time the runner is in the air, carried forward by momentum. Tonight I tested this on flats and hills, and I really did go faster, with no more fatigue than usual.

I enjoyed a day with eighth grade language arts/social studies students one day in the newly refurbished school in the center of town. Such an enjoyable day–got to read aloud and facilitate a discussion on irony. I could tell they’d been well taught, and were ready for this, and we kept digging through the layers. I shared that I loved to read and enjoy lit, but didn’t necessarily remember terminology or literary definitions, and had a distaste for excessive analysis, though I recognized it was useful to know what such things as irony were. I appealed to them to protect their time to read, enjoy, learn, internalize lit outside of “class”, where they wouldn’t have to analyze.

This last was such a pleasant day, no testiness, no student angst, everyone treating each other with kindness. I felt spoiled, that I could be of better use where more experience is needed, where I have to rise higher to the occasion. But as for the respect and kindness, epitomized for me in the way the boy with the pink tutu was just one of many people to be friends and colleagues with, to listen to, to collaborate with, I kept thinking, I like this new world. Students were writing bill proposals and at least three had to do with gender non-discrimination. Others about care for the environment, support for the homeless, gun control, silly dress codes. One student wanted to allowing semi-automatic assault rifles, and spent more time scrolling through photos of weapons than using words to intelligently present his view. I gently encouraged him to work on the content before illustrations, asked him what objections he thought people would have to his proposal, and how he planned to counter these. Hoping that the respect he experiences here, and the development of his critical thinking abilities, will be some kind of corrective for his gun love. What is he afraid of?

My favorite moment over he last few weeks was reading Chief Seattle’s speech to three seventh grade classes who had got their assignment done early. They listened–really listened, and engaged, noticed the layers of meaning that were absent in the two sentence summary on the worksheet on the giving over of the land to the whites, the resignation to a life on the reservation. In one class, I made an analogy first–what would you do if you were in your bedroom at home, and your parent came in and told you, in a tone you had not heard before, that you were to give up your room–the new occupant standing just behind–and sleep on the couch, no use arguing. Yes, the passion of youth flared up–refuse! Fight! And why did older folks often not take that approach when there was danger?

Spoke to my son by phone, where he’d visited three campuses in my home province, all alma maters of mine. As I’d expected, he valued the close knit community of two of the campuses, and liked best the one at which I’d spent my best two years–Acadia University. It has a strong program in computer science and education, beautiful campus, and a swim program. Costs half the net price of Whitworth, the private school his grandparents and dad are rooting for, because of their approach to nurturing heart and mind and mentoring students into service. Three others in the running also, U of Northern BC, which has a strong computer science program but a long winter and no pool, and two other private schools, reach schools, that would only be feasible with the right financial package. It will be interesting to see where he gets accepted, and which he chooses. The main considerations are academics, cost, culture, and distance from home, with each interested party listing those in a slightly different order. Then comes applying for more scholarships and a dorm spot, saving money, and starting to process all this emotionally, while I work on his memory albums.




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College planning continued, and I’m hoping it will be applicable for the next three kids to come

Ha! I feel like I’m making a kind of progress, since for the last two weeks the number of my post drafts has ceased to mount and commenced declining. More like a steady state, as hindsight has culled a few. Interesting that in the case of one or two on which I’ve labored I feel have something to them, some real ideas pretty clearly articulated, but I’m not sure they represent what I really think right now, and when I try to bring them around they won’t cooperate. Maybe I got to writing along an old track, and someone laid a penny on the rail and so one wheel is off a bit. Maybe I’ll just put disclaimers at the beginning and post them anyway.

College research for my son continues, and the results are mixed. He’s basically looking for a combination of computer science and Arabic, though he has a range of other interests too-pretty broad, actually. Computer science for a marketable skill mostly–doesn’t seem to be smitten by that prospect, but wants to make a good salary and not be a burden. Also has help making inroads there and getting additional training through his dad by joining the family business. He also wants to study languages. Arabic will build on his fluency in Hebrew, which is closely related, and make him eligible to apply for the The State Department’s Critical Languages Scholarship program, which pays for summer classes beyond beginning Arabic. So that seems wise in any case. Somewhere in his heart still, I’m pretty sure, is the desire to teach, or work with kids in some capacity. But since that can wait until the time he’s need to branch off into education coursework, he can brood over that and see if the heart will still have its reasons for going into a lower paying field. Interesting that my eleven year old is now saying that he definitely wants to be a teacher, no doubt at all, he says. It’s cool that though this sixth grade year is tough for him in some ways, he’s seen something that inspires him in some of his teachers. Part of it is some kind of funkiness, an ability to be quirky and silly with kids, and have fun so they stay interested, laugh and learn better. He knows and sometimes struggles with knowing that he dances to a different drummer, and it seems that could work as a teacher. Not that he’s had the chance to observe many other professions.

Plus, I guess, the kids have heard me talk so much about my subbing experiences, and my wonder that despite being a somewhat lazy and introverted person, or at least not very content to be on a schedule and needing regular time alone, I really do enjoy doing what I’m doing. They see how much value the profession of teacher itself, as so important in this world. Is there anything as important? Given that parenting is also teaching to a big degree, of course. Of course I’m biased; there are surely many equally important jobs. But they don’t include doctors, lawyers, or police, or computer programmers, or HR managers, or senators. Farmers might be up there with teachers, and craftspeople, and but I’m not sure what else. All professions, of course, maybe even the oldest, are sanctified by the real desire to do right financially by one’s loved ones, and an attitude of sweet service.

So, college planning: It’s come to light that it doesn’t seem to be worth it for my son to apply to a big-name school that has both computer science and Arabic—U of WA, for example, or a unique private school that has both—Macalester College, for example. The first option means life on a really big campus, and I have serious reservations about that because of the challenge of feeling connected, part of a caring community, soon enough into the first semester for good mental health, on which everything else depends. The second option is just too darn expensive. If we could do income averaging we might qualify for student aid, but it’s been a financial catch-up year, so on paper our income is above average. We didn’t have the foresight to buy lots of stuff like cars and major house remodels as some people apparently do to be able to report fewer assets on the FAFSA. Which to my mind is a perversion of the way FAFSA is supposed to work. Or there’s a perversion somewhere, if rich, educated people can “structure” their assets (see this Forbes article) to seem like any other struggling middle class family whose kids need federal assistance with higher education. I suppose with a son and a daughter due to start higher ed within the next few years and not much savings, our assets will get restructured soon enough. And we won’t be the first loving parents who have refinanced assets to help kids through college. I am checking my privilege, yes.

The most cost effective option (keeping out of serious debt being another way to support mental health) seemed to be continuing at the local community college, which has an excellent cyber security training program at the cost of $2000 per quarter, the intro courses for which have already been paid for by Running Start. Today I really probed my son as to how he felt about studying in town and continuing to live at home. He’s been so flexible, so mindful of the need to make sound decisions affecting family finances, that he hasn’t really expressed, maybe even allowed himself to establish, his real preferences and dreams. When pressed, he said he really didn’t want to continue at the local college and living at home, though he’d be willing if we couldn’t afford otherwise. I told him I felt it was important to try to honor the desires he had, that this was a time of opportunity, and there were ways of making it work to pursue his dreams, to travel, to be part of a learning community rather than just taking classes and coming home to do assignments. One affordable option is to go to a Canadian university. I’m taking a closer look at the in my Nova Scotia alma maters, because my son would be able to be near my extended family for the first extended time–grandparents, two uncles and an aunt, and even an adorable three year old niece. Another two aunts and two uncles not so far away either. My parents are approaching their eighties, still pretty healthy, and they would be thrilled. My son has a special connection with my dad, who has a similar personality, interests and communication style.

My alma mater is a cozy little college (U of King’s) adjacent to a large research university (Dalhousie U), so one can take specialized liberal arts programs such as Foundation Year (classics of Western lit), History of Science and Technology, Early Modern Studies, or Contemporary Studies, study at the respected journalism school, or take selection of the big box classes next door. Or a combination. At the very least one gets to belong to a close knit community (sometimes too close, which has its valuable lessons) and enjoy lots of Oxfordish traditions as well as live in classic, roomy old high ceilinged dorms with clanking water radiators. And one can also go be anonymous, strolling through the crowds of Dalhousie or dozing in a corner of the giant library, or get involved in a club on a larger scale. Great athletic center, easy access to Celtic music, lots of weather… What are my feelings in this? I feel my son will do more justice to the opportunities at King’s that I did, for one thing.  It’s exciting to think of all the cool things that the place offers, and be so familiar with many of them. On the other hand, I had a pang of motherly angst when I thought of my firstborn living so far away for four years–a preview of how much I will miss him. As will we all, and why not, like my husband suggests, have him study closer to home?

Fortunately application deadlines for Canadian universities are still months away, so it’s a matter of finishing up the U.S. paperwork, fitting in as many brief conversations with my son as possible in the midst of his finals and papers so I can ferret out what he really wants to do, and feels is the best way to do it.


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Posted by on January 26, 2015 in Education, Parenting & Family


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More post secondary planning discoveries – cheap study abroad options

My oldest son wants to study Arabic, among other things (at this point his interests are pretty broad). He’s somewhat familiar with how Arabic works, having learned a little in Israel, along with becoming fluent in Modern Hebrew, a closely related language. Arabic classes are not easy to find around these parts, though we’ve found some good programs through various colleges. But at $8000 to $11,000 for an eight week intensive program (including room and board), or a college-sponsored study abroad program at college rates and lots of hoopla, it’s not an easy sell for us. So I suggested we find something more grass roots. Inspired by The New Global Student by Maya Frost and fortified with the knowledge that my son has already lived in the Middle East and we still have contacts there, I did a search and found three opportunities under $2000, plus airfare and visa fees, with flexible lengths of stay. Love Volunteers and Project Hope take volunteers in the West Bank who teach and hang out with with Palestinian children and work on various projects such as farming, and Coptic Orphans volunteers help with kids at orphanages in Egypt. Both offer the opportunity to take Arabic classes, and in my experience, there’s no better kind of early language immersion than being surrounded by kids who speak the language. Opportunities in Jordan are currently limited, I assume because all resources are being directed toward the Syrian refugee crisis.

The other neat thing about Arabic is that it’s considered a “critical language” by the U.S. State Department (duh), which will fully fund second year Arabic studies through their Critical Language Scholarship program (which our neighbor clued us into). Not sure if that leads to recruitment into intelligence gathering careers, but we can use it. Also, depending on what college my son decides on, I’m hoping there will be opportunities for him to earn college level credits from this volunteer work and language study, maybe even in multiple disciplines such as international studies, journalism, politics, and education. Last, I hope that if he decides to go for it, his commitment to do so will impress the heck out of college entrance committees that might otherwise not be impressed by certain lackluster portions of his transcript.


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Posted by on December 6, 2014 in Education


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Walking through a forest of carrot trees, parenthetical to more college visit notes

Eldest son and I went over the mountains to Whitman College in Walla Walla the other day. Long drive through the Cascades to the rain shadow, rolling hills of wheat stubble, passing trucks carrying massive loads of baled hay. Wildflowers and gravelly rivers, irrigated pastures and vineyards, low profile towns with grain storage tanks rising up near the highway. Into the wine country, region of sweet onions and dry land farming. Away from the sea under sparsely clouded skies, wide skies.

We park on a side street, get first impressions as we head to the library for check in. Interesting range of emotions for me–this is an expensive private college, with beautiful grounds and facilities, what I can only assume are intelligent and gifted young people strolling around, and I’m feeling a little insecure, on behalf of my son or myself I don’t quite know. Then the embarrassment of finding out he forgot his sleeping gear for the overnight with a student host, my awkwardness at wanting to be involved without being overly involved, hear and see everything with him, ask great questions for his sake, maybe even clarify things he might not express as clearly as I would like. Sure it’s his experience, his time, his chance to learn whether this school would be a good fit and whether he should apply. But parents are mentors, as well as financial supporters, and college decisions have a family impact in more than one way. So I’m disappointed that in my parent packet is only general information about the college, a map and tips on accommodation, dining , and entertainment. I leave him to wait for his host, send off my best silent hopes that he’ll have a good time, learn lots of useful insights, get a sense of the nature of this place and its community in his conversations between now and the tour on the morrow. From the hotel I text him that I found a sleep sack in the car trunk and can borrow a pillow and towel from the aptly named Comfort Inn. He texts back, No worries, he’s worked it out with the host. So I settle in for some 3Rs–relaxation, reading, and writing. But my quiet hotel room doesn’t feel like a mini-vacation as I thought it would, just quiet and lonely, as I begin this process of releasing my firstborn and think about my other three coming to the same stage soon.

The next morning, on the advice of the desk staff, I drive over for a run around the reservoir. Sun is hanging large and red low in the east over low hills, the air is clear and cool. I find the driveway, a parking lot, lock the car and head up onto a sort of dike trail where I can get high enough to look around. The reservoir, the small lake on my left, surrounded by poplars and willows, summer dry but full of life–rustling in the bushes, soft flutterings, birdsong. At the highest point of the trail I’m facing a softly rounded hill, over the top of which rises the tips of small farm buildings, and the sound of a radio.

I run across the ridge, working out the stiffness in my hip, then follow another walker, man in his sixties or so in a brimmed hat, down into the path around the lake. So as not to be in continual pursuit, I speed up and he turns as I draw near. I apologize for following, explain that I don’t know the paths. He smiles and says, “You have a good attitude.” Was he alarmed? Does that instinctive fear of danger, as I had lying at the base of my uncertainty about this unknown trail in an unknown town, come into play for him when he hears quick steps behind? Even here? Once on the radio show about design solutions, the speaker described going places where, as a woman, she could experience risk, was full of solutions design. Choosing the route, the time, the safety techniques, speed, aura of strength and confidence to project when going out into the world. Whether to go alone, in a group, or with a dog. I am not naive (though I’ve been accused of such because of my actions at times), and being alone out here, my mind isn’t free of the thought of possible danger. This time I decide to lay them all aside and count on the positive odds today.

And so they come into play. I explore trails of sand and fine gravel, some of which end in fishing spots, some at benches, others in rabbit trails. Around several bends in the trail I spy single rabbit sentries. Each must have heard my approach, yet each lingers to catch a glimpse, get a better scent, interpret my movements, hear my soft greeting, then bounce off, white tail flashing. As I come up to one of the rabbit entrances, I see under the sparsely leafed trees a network of small paths, beaten by many feet and roofed by branches. It reminds me of a dry version of Yoda’s swamp. In a few months winter snow will define tunnels, archways and floors even more.

Along a path a few yards in from the lake stand smooth-limbed skeletons of a plant gone to seed–looks exactly like dill, except it is the color of ripe wheat. I remember carrot seed heads are the same, so this must be cow parsnip. A forest of it lines the path. Further along the dry gulch at the end of the reservoir, the trees thin and the path climbs the bank. The sand of the path here is imprinted with overlaid evidence of other travelers–human shoe soles, dog prints, small spayed hand-like paws, and the distinct long and short footfalls of rabbits.

On a parallel, unseen path above mine comes a whistler, singing a trilling, exuberant bird-like tune which is yet unmistakably human. My senses, both physical and cultural, tell me it is a man between the ages of  fifty and seventy years, intelligent, fit , cheerful, and from the area. Surprised by my confidence sight unseen, I consider what detail the birds can pick up about each other by ear.

On the way out the road to the car the quick movements of a quail, body gliding along above fast moving feet, head with black feather flag bobbing. It stops to hide behind a boulder at the edge of the road, and when I make the circuit, scurries into the shrubbery.

After breakfast, which, because I wasn’t watching the time,  I would have missed were it not for a kind attendant who found me some eggs and sausage after most had been put away, I head over to the campus for the tour. I’m too late, having misremembered the time and not having been given a schedule in my packet. Probably just as well–my son is being given a one-on-one tour. I wander around on my own through the academic buildings, the art gallery, across the grassy quad, to the student center, examine bulletin boards, gardens. Then back to admissions to see what I can learn. I ask the student at the desk about her story–a junior from a private school, the only one of her class that did not hire a private SAT tutor, believing that was not the point. She shares with me about internships and other opportunities, what she knows about student aid, a sense of the community at Whitman. Tells me the former head of admissions has gone to be a farmer.

In the info session with an admissions officer we hear about the values of Whitman–academic rigor, diversity of thought and experience, rich community, equipping students to make a contribution and move into a great career. Having chosen Pomona for reasons of accessibility and studied anthropology, the officer then came to work at Whitman because it had been his first choice college. Tells us about the first year Encounters class, in which students read a set list of books and are led in discussion and writing by professors from various disciplines, classes kept to about fifteen students each. Good information, with only a touch of gushing (the perfect balance of academics and community, “cross-fit for the mind”). The new assistant of admissions, a young black North Carolinian, observes the session, introduces himself to my son.

Then it’s time to go, long drive back over the mountains, but we decide to try our luck finding the swim and dive coach. She’s just getting out of a meeting and takes us to her office for a chat, invites in her interim assistant, a former student who recently won the national 100 butterfly title. He reminds me of my son–medium build, light hair, glasses, calm, intelligent demeanor. Coach Jennifer Blomme  asks my son about grades, previous training, best times, goals. She is a good listener,  and my son has a sense he’d enjoy training with her. She says he could come in at the level of a scoring member of the team, suggests he apply for early acceptance for the best shot, takes our contact info. Whitman is NCAA Division III, both men and women train together, and there is an off season, which my son thinks would be a good fit and allow him to pursue other interests–something that his previous club coach seemingly could not abide.

On the way home I hear, in precis form, about my son’s time with students and on the tour. He was able to attend an Encounters class, in which he was disappointed at how the professor handled another student’s observations on interpreting the book of Genesis. The student had observed that if one had the view that Genesis was not divinely inspired, one could posit that it was written by man to give man authority over the Earth. Instead of taking that lead to discuss cultural norms handed down by the priesthood, she said, “But that would be blasphemous, so we don’t take that view.” Which surprised me, as i have come to expect the opposite bias in post modern academia. We talked about how rich a discussion it could have been, how we would hope the professor went home and realized she had not handled that very well and come back next day to refresh the discussion. I suggested my son write about that interchange in his entrance essay, which he though was a good idea.

And so the visit was successful in that Whitman is on my son’s short list. However, it’s a hard sell unless they would provide a substantial aid package. Also it looks like my son will be a hard sell for such a college, grades at this point being good but not great, second SAT and first ACT still to be tackled. Still, there may be hope that, since the college asserts that their goal is to build a diverse student body that will excel at Whitman, maybe some of my son’s unique qualities and experiences will offset his less than stellar numbers and white maleness. It will be a reach. My son’s assignment, write notes on his visit and look up the application essay requirements, start making notes.



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First College Visit

Took a tour of Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC with my son last week and we were pretty impressed. Lots of program options, three campuses within public transport distance, mountaintop location, renowned work coop program, encouragement to explore and cross disciplines. The only NCAA Division II college in Canada, with a swim team my son could make (according to current team records). And as a dual citizen there’s that only $5800.oo per year tuition price tag that seems to be a shockingly good bargain. But it’s a big school, and my instinct is that’s not a good thing for this particular young man. Undergrad classes of hundreds of students, impossibility of real connection with professors, just like I experienced in my undergrad years at Dalhousie U. The big campus favors the extrovert, the Type A, the confident, go-getting, early-blooming risk-taker, and of course we need those, and power to them for distinguishing themselves in this big world. But some people need a more nurturing environment, a community where you have a good chance of running into the same people now and then, becoming known, making connections in a natural way and in the course of special events for that purpose. Introverts have the right to have their needs met, too, to have help discovering their strengths and gaining new ones, to be mentored and encouraged. All those stresses of suddenly being away from family, friends, work colleagues, familiar places, plus new academic challenges and the leap into greater independence. Lots to digest, and you gotta have friends and wise people around to help, even to break in at times to the spiral of the introvert’s tendency to over think and turn inward further. Yeah, they’re deep, but they can sometimes get too far under.

So much good information available to inform oneself about U.S. universities–from lots of different angles–from stats to reviews to scores to alternative and unusual viewpoints. Not so much available on Canadian universities–at least I haven’t been able to track much down. Just MacLean’s Magazine rankings, and that system has its flaws. I’m looking at small colleges (there are some excellent big ones–U of Toronto, McGill, but see above). Two that come up often are Acadia U, where I did my teaching degree, and Mount Allison U.,  where two of my siblings studied. Pretty far away, but close to my parents and two siblings, which could be nice for all. It would be good to find out what those two and other similar small Canadian colleges are doing these days.

Meanwhile, we’ve also booked a tour at Whitman College in Walla Walla, the renowned private school that continually appears in our fantastic colleges books–Cool Colleges, Colleges That Change Lives, 140 Best Colleges, and lots more. But tuition is almost ten times that at SFU, and over seven times that of our local state university. The argument being that that’s what a really excellent education costs, and that a good liberal art education gives a person what they really need to think well, communicate well, have depth and breadth of understanding that equips them for whatever next steps they choose. And grad schools and the best HR folks know that and snap up those grads. Also, that if you’re the kind of student Whitman wants, they’ll pitch in big bucks in the way of scholarships and aid, so the average indebtedness might not be much over what a public college grad might incur. Anyway, it’s in our state, and should give us an idea of what these types of places are like. So we’re trying to be open minded.

One thing that struck me about our student tour guide was that she was very somber. Not just serious and grounded, which I appreciate when trying to gather accurate information, but almost sad. Not something about which I could ask, but I wondered if she was lonely at her big school.

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Posted by on September 15, 2014 in Education, Places & Experiences


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