My younger daughter is a high school senior. But she has been looking for colleges since she was a freshman in high school. There have been passionate flirtations, come hither glances from more brochures than you want to imagine (honest to God, we could take over a landfill with the brochures for colleges she’d never heard of, and the colleges she is interested in have spent unbelievable amounts of money and resources on her and her fellow seniors). About a year ago she was pretty sure she’d met The One, the college that would make her life full of meaning and joy. Or something along that line.
She has certain rock-hard criteria: small liberal arts college. Not in California. Not necessarily in a city (maybe even not in a city, but that’s negotiable). Good record on sustainability and social responsibility. Good departments for Sociology, Women’s and Gender Studies, and American Studies. Not cliquey. Diversity, outward focus, etc.
Last summer, before she took off for a summer course in Washington DC, she and her dad took a road-trip through the Northeast, visiting schools in New York (2) and Connecticut (3). The visit to schools in Vermont and Massachusetts were scotched because of the Asiana Airlines crash, which knocked their schedule into a cocked hat, as the saying is. She came home inspired and impressed, but not overwhelmed. No school had yet knocked the One True College from its position in her heart.
So now it’s my turn to do the tour thing. Like intrepid explorers we loaded up our pack mules with supplies and clothes for all weathers, and headed for the midwest. (We did leave the flintlocks at home: TSA insisted.) We flew into Des Moines last Wednesday night, slept near the airport, and drove to Grinnell, IA, the next morning. Grinnell is a beautiful campus, and the kid did the full court press there: lunch with a student, class (Critique of Culture), interview, overnight in a dorm. I stayed in a nearby B&B and took myself out to a good dinner (just because you’re an explorer doesn’t mean it has to be all privation). “I could really see myself here,” she said, as we left.
Next, north to Minnesota, and Macalester College, in St. Paul. It’s actually an urban campus, but once you’re there the notion of a city outside the door fades a little. The campus is beautiful and curiously compact, using its space well; it’s also built with regard for the weather: gerbil tubes from building to building to building significantly reduce the number of times a student has to go out in the elements in January, which is a smart move. I liked the emphasis on service and involvement, and the enthusiasm of the girl who led my tour (they split the kids off from the ‘rents, as our foci are often very different). When we left, I got the feeling that maybe Grinnell had some serious competition in the “I can see myself here” department.
Sunday we explored Minneapolis, like you do, and had brunch with good friends. We saw the sculpture garden and bummed around a little downtown, and were almost swallowed by a horde of purple-clad Vikings fans on their way to a game, and then on their way home.
And today it was Carleton, south of Minneapolis and north of Iowa. Despite gray skies it was gorgeously autumnal (never underestimate the joy of a real autumn landscape for Easterners living in San Francisco), and the campus showed to great advantage. Did the tour and info session, had lunch on campus, and then the kid disappeared into her interview. And she came out almost an hour later, having gotten to yakking with the interviewer. And, again: “I can really see myself here, Mom. It’s so beautiful.”
So there you have it: three schools, all alike in dignity. Plus other already-reviewed schools. Kid has many essays to write before all the applying is in. Eventually, one of these schools will turn out to be Mr. Right after al…