When you have children, amid the sleepless nights and multitude of diaper changes, it’s hard to imagine that your precious little baby will someday be college bound. When your preschooler is busy exploring the world and learning their ABC’s, you still cannot picture the day you will be planning their flight out into the world. While you watch your elementary school student sing in school performances and start venturing out to their first sleepovers, you still cannot picture the day when their “sleepover” will extend into months, or even years. During the middle school period, when standardized testing is being pushed, you start to get an inkling that college will be coming, but it’s still barely a thought in your head. Even when your “baby” enters high school, it still seems so far away that you may not give it very much thought. Then one day it sneaks up on you. Maybe you are lucky and have this in mind at the beginning of your child’s junior year (or before). Or just maybe you are like me, and out of curiosity you start looking into it mid-way through their junior year, only to discover you are now behind in planning. That’s right, I said BEHIND.
Here it is, February, mid-way through my eldest’s junior year, and I thought I was making an early move by scheduling a local college visit for her. Sure the timing for visiting colleges may be right on target, but there is so much more to consider than just the visit. We scheduled our first visit for non other than Vanderbilt University. Why Vanderbilt? Because Vanderbilt is my family, my employer, my own school (albeit graduate school), and it is local. We arrived at 7:30 on a dreary Monday morning. Even though it is early February, the last few days were like spring, almost summer really. I expected the same of this day. We went to the grand ballroom where hundreds of other families assembled from all over the country to learn just what Vanderbilt has to offer (like I don’t already know), and what to expect from their admission process. We were very fortunate that not only did they explain their process, but they also explained the overall admission process as it would pertain to the majority of colleges and universities across the US. The session was very informative. For my daughter…it was also very disheartening. For as they explained their process and their order of importance for certain categories, they hit a few sensitive spots for her. Here were the expectations that were outlined for us, in addition to points of importance for me that I will keep in mind for my youngest.
First, obviously they will place heavy ranking on ACT scores. Now she is a very smart girl and has not even attempted to take the ACT as of yet; however, she feels that despite her awesome grades, she does not test very well. I have tried to assure her that she doesn’t know until she gives it a shot. The school even said that you can take it multiple times, and they will ONLY consider your highest score. She doesn’t seem convinced. Lesson #1: invest in ACT practice literature – these usually come with software to take practice tests. (Ours is now on order).
As our lecturer continued on with their entrance requirements, their second emphasis was placed on letters of recommendation. My girls just changed high schools because of our move, but I quickly noted for her that she should contact her former high school teachers, who know her very well, and ask them for letters of recommendation. I am also pretty sure that some of the teachers at her new school will have a good idea of who she is by the time she submits her college applications. Lesson #2: think ahead and remember those important people in your child’s life that may be able to write a glowing recommendation for them when the time comes.
Next in line came the written essay. Now, here I have no doubt that my daughter will excel. She loves to write and does very well with essays. But this also tied in to the next requirement: extra-curricular activities. Here was our first major blow. When my girls were younger, I exposed them to a variety of activities that ranged from girl scouts, music lessons and dance lessons, to ice skating, gymnastics and even bowling. They were happy to have these experiences, but as they decided each one was not for them, I did not force them to stay in anything. I was just happy to provide them with the opportunities. By high school, I wanted my girls to be themselves and enjoy being kids for their final adolescent years. As such, neither has pursued any “extracurricular” activities as a normal person would define them, and I was not one to push. But now we were starting to panic. There were no clubs to list on her application. There were no outside music or physical activities to list. After digging in and doing my research, I learned that there are many things that constitute “extracurricular”, not just organized school activities, these include: Part-time jobs, volunteering, hobbies, any many other interests that your child may hold outside of school. We feel better about this now, and can now breathe a sigh of relief. Lesson #3: Keep your children (or encourage them) to remain active in activities regardless of how old they are.
So now we know the admission process for one of our school choices (probably the most difficult one), and we also know that many other colleges may have similar requirements, even if they are weighted differently. Now comes the task of deciding which schools have a concentration in my daughter’s academic area of choice (she’s interested in neurosciences), and which of those we wish to visit. Once we narrow that down, we can proceed with the fun part – VISITING!
We left our orientation information session and proceeded on our first campus tour just as it began to rain…without having umbrellas. There have been many points in my life where it seems rain brought good luck, and even though we were thoroughly drenched after our tour, I chose to believe this would be one of those lucky moments. My belief was cemented when we proceeded to take a tour of one of the neuroscience labs here at Vanderbilt (thanks to my connections). This little tour provided us with more information and insight into my daughter’s chosen career field than any ordinary college tour could ever provide. Here her spirits were lifted, and she regained her enthusiasm for the future. We now have two more campus visits already scheduled (within driving distance), and are looking to add a couple more that may even require travel by plane. Even though it will be bittersweet in the end, after all it will mean that she will be moving on in life, I am looking forward to having this little adventure with her. I am so proud of her, and I am truly blessed to be her mother.