One of the “benefits”, or so I like to call them, of being the child of an educational consultant is that you “get” to tag along with your parent on college tours from the time you can remember. My daughter plays club soccer and, for years, whenever she had a tournament in some far away state, we would leave a day early so that I could take advantage of the opportunity to visit college campuses. And she, of course, got to come along. This has been our routine since she was in middle school. Sometimes she would beg off, choosing instead to pass her time reading in the admissions office while I toured. Other times she would join me, learning more than a 13 year old should probably know about co-ed dorms and frat parties.
Now she’s a junior and last week we took our first official tour of colleges specifically for her. Although I had, of course, anticipated this moment for years, looking at colleges through the eyes of an invested parent instead of a detached consultant, was an extra-ordinary experience for me, unexpected in many ways. I worried about how she would find her niche in this new community, I tried to imagine her taking a semester to study abroad, and I wondered how she would be shaped differently by her experience at each college.
But my most pleasing revelation was how ready my daughter is to go off to college. Not in that “I-can’t wait-to-get-away-from-my-parents-and-lead-my-own-life” way that many students feel, but in the way that she is ready to tackle the challenges of collegiate life and is excited by the many new opportunities that await her.
I smiled several times on these tours as I watched my daughter’s eyes light up at things that would have made no real impression on me. In one dining hall, after seeing a row of 20 cereal dispensers lined up like soldiers, she turned to me beaming and said, “This is a GREAT school!” She engaged tour-guides and asked questions about classes and student activities that would never have occurred to me. And, above all, she concluded that natural sunlight and bright, open spaces were of paramount importance to her.
Despite the fact that we used two different assessment rubrics, remarkably we came away with the very same sense of which schools were the best fit for her. We just had different reasons - mine more objective and focused on the classroom experience and hers more subjective and, apparently, weighing heavily the cold cereal options!
In the end of things, I know that my daughter is going to thrive in college. I saw it by how easily she moved around campus, how comfortably she spoke with students, coaches, and professors, and how happily she took in everything she saw. At this time next year, she’ll be ready to tackle head-on the challenges of collegiate life with poise confidence.
No, I’m not ready to see my child off to college, but she is ready to go, and therein lies the pain, and the pleasure, of parenthood.