Having a child apply to college is both fun and stressful. For certain, it is a much more complex process than it was 40 years ago when I applied to college. At the same time, it’s a learning opportunity if one approaches it as a research project. It reveals so much about: family dynamics (can you get through the process in one happy and healthy piece?); attitudes toward education and learning in our culture (there’s a difference); and social equality (or lack of) in the wider culture and the college culture one is considering.
Recently, Natalie overheard a high school senior tell a junior, “My advice is to visit as many colleges as possible.” Natalie’s advice is just the opposite. First of all, not everyone has the financial resources to go flying around the country visiting colleges. Second, one can learn so much by doing research at home: exploring all of the colleges’ academic, extra-curricular, and social opportunities on-line. Third, it’s good to spend time thinking about one’s priorities and goals before going on a “college marketing tour,” which can feel somewhat like touring houses in a real estate market. It’s easy to be impressed, but one has to be a little bit on guard from being seduced by the superficial, knowing that impressive buildings and facilities, and winning athletic teams don’t necessarily reveal the full story.
We didn’t visit many colleges. After going on two college tours in towns we were visiting for other reasons, Natalie decided to thoroughly visit college websites, researching course offerings, professor biographies, dining reviews, and housing particulars. She came up with a list of priorities (which will be different for each student). For her, these things were important:
1) The college population reflect the world in its diversity;
2) The freshman curriculum offer opportunities for much in-class discussion, and that the junior and senior year offer opportunities for in-depth research;
3) The extra-curricular activities celebrate music, art and theater as much as athletics;
4) And that the social opportunities emphasize broad interests, with little or no presence of sororities or fraternities.
After she had done her research and honed her list down to a handful of colleges, we visited a total of four colleges (all in California). Initially, she had considered a college in Rhode Island and one in Ohio, but by early fall of her senior year, she had decided that, for her, spreading her wings was more about a state of mind than geography. She also knew that she wanted to study abroad for a semester or year. This method of researching colleges and visiting a few campuses worked well for Natalie, who has been admitted to Pomona College’s Class of 2019.
When I read about Pomona College’s Class of 2019, I felt renewed excitement for Natalie. She really did find the college she was looking for: where engaged scholarship is central; where she can learn more about the world and herself; where cultural and economic diversity are valued; and the sense of community is strong (97% of students live on campus all four years). Additionally, we were pleased to learn early on that “Pomona College is one of a handful of institutions which practice need-blind admissions and provide need-based financial aid. No student is required to take a loan to meet the cost of attending Pomona.” This is a sign that a college is committed to practicing equal access and economic justice.
Thus, here’s an excerpt from Pomona College’s announcement about the Class of 2019:
“Keeping with tradition, the Admissions team rang the bells of Sumner Hall 19 times at midday to celebrate the selection of the new class.
Students admitted to the Class of 2019 come from 47 states (plus D.C.) and 47 nationalities. Women account for 53 percent of the class, and men 47 percent. For the first time, students of color make up the majority of the class at 51.4 percent. In addition, international students comprise 14.2 percent of the class. Roughly 16 percent are first-generation students, meaning neither their mother nor father attended a four-year college. The Class of 2019 is made up of outstanding students. Ninety-three percent are in the top 10 percent of their high school class. In all, the admitted students come from 645 schools worldwide.”
Students from around the world gathering together to learn more about themselves and each other… As a mother hen, it’s a nice feeling when you know your fledgling is going where she can see herself flying. I think it’s fitting that the mascot for Pomona College is the sage hen.