Monday, May 14, 2007

College Tour Horror

by Pat Hart

I just completed the process of getting my son into "the college of his choice" of which the main activity was to travel hundreds of miles and participate in the hour-long college tour. This was the basis of our most expensive decision of our lives and it was made by a 17-year old boy.

The college tour scene is a dysfunctional family parade and as writer I loved it. It seemed there was always, regardless of the city or state, some variation on the following cast of characters:

Rape Mom: Every stairway, lonely library stack, or thicket was under suspicion. This woman could spot a blind spot in the campus video surveillance so small a pair of Pekinese couldn't breed in private. And the poor daughter, who's mere presence was apparently enough to transform mild mannered college boys into rutting satyrs, was usually too mortified to raise her head and look around.

Cell Phone Dad: Really, we saw more than one of these guys who took calls and clicked away on his blackberry through the whole tour. Sometimes Mom (or wife number two) and child would wait for him as the tour moved on, sometimes not.

Stump the Guide Dad: This guy would always have lots comments and would eventually ask a totally inane question that would cause the guide (usually a kid) to stare at the man for a very long beat while the rest of us wonder "Why? Why? Why?" and his kid tries to slither under a concrete pad.

Cajolers: These parents have a kid that they've been begging to eat, sleep, study, breathe, since the day he was born and now they're doing back flips trying to get the kid to pick a college. They're often from some place really far away and this school is extremely inconvenient to visit but it's the only one the kid expressed any interest in at all. These parents love everything and are trying to beam their enthusiasm into the kid by nodding, smiling, and pointing at anything that the kid might deign to like. "Look, a low cement wall, you could grind your skateboard here!"

The Whole Fam Damily: This is a crowd of no less than 6. Two parents, one Nana or Papa, two siblings (one bored teenager/one annoying ten year old), and the poor kid that's looking for a college.

My advice to all parents on these tours is to not speak to anyone, anyone--your child, another parent, the guide and especially not to any of totally cool college the students on campus. And, if you really love your child you will somehow manage to become invisible during the tour but readily available when it comes time to buy the very expensive logo wear, which they will not wear unless they select that particular college and only after you send in the housing deposit. (PS: you, your husband and other children are expressly forbidden to don any college logo wear, ever.)


Anonymous said...

Huh. Our "college wear" rules were different. You could only don a shirt from your school if it said something disrespectful about the school on it. Wearing clothes from another school was fair game, particularly if you lusted after someone from that school.

How times change!

Joyce Tremel said...

I remember these tours well! Fortunately ours were all within a two hour drive.

The tours aren't nearly as painful as the orientation the schools have over the summer that they force the parents to attend. It's usually a day full of stuff you really don't want to do anyway. I think they just want you feel like you're getting something for your money before they zap you with the tuition bill.

Anonymous said...

Cute post, Pat. I see a mystery novel waiting to happen on one of these tours. Talk about character stereotypes!

I was lucky that I fell in love with and chose the first college I toured, which was right in downtown. I spared my parents the dreadful college tour.

Anonymous said...

Pat, my favorites were the families from India, touring the Ivy League schools. The (usually) pudgy kid would be playing a Gameboy (it was a different era) while Dad asked the obscure questions and Mom kept poking the kid with her elbow. We followed the same family to 3 different schools one weekend.

The school my daughter picked? The one where I stayed in the park while she scampered off to the dorm with a graduating senior who offered to show her around.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Pat...and great images. I can see all them, unfortunately. I find all this higher ed business weirdly fascinating, coming as I do from a family that was more than happy to let me pay tuition, fees, books and rent while living at home and who showed up exactly once on campus--at my graduation, which I attended only because the family was surprised I stuck it out. And college wear...forget it...too easy making fun of terrapins!

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for your kind comments. I wrote this in response to 'a call for input' from Sally Kalson. She's writing a piece about the college search process (her kid's a year younger than mine). I don't know if she'll include any of my nonsense, but look for the upcoming article from Sally in the PG.

See you all at PennWriters!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hey, Pat... which parent were YOU?