For both my girls, the college choosing process did not seem to be about falling in love.
We’d heard the stories, of course, of friends who’d gone on a college tour, or maybe just perused the web site, or who knew someone at a college and fell.in.love. Those students, it seemed, over and over, just knew they belonged at that college. They knew that was the number one choice – that all other choices would be second and third and fourth and fifth.
Maybe the student was so in love that he or she went so far as applying Early Decision.
But this was not either of my girls’ experiences.
We started touring with both in the fall of their junior year, though it would have been fine to wait until spring, too. They started with online visits to get a feel for different schools. Some web sites immediately interested them. Others, not so much, but through the online visits, their own thoughts, talking with friends, and knowing themselves, they both felt they wanted a small, liberal arts college.
With each of them, we visited a number of these schools and most of the feedback I got was “It was fine,” or “I liked it,” “not for me,” or any other number of basic, not-quite-enthusiastic answers.
They were both frustrated by the fact that they weren’t falling in love well into the fall of senior year, when we continued to do more visits and now, as they filled out applications to colleges where they could at least see themselves. Maybe they weren’t in love, but they could go here or there, and be happy. But they still wanted to fall in love.
From December and all the way through April, my girls both received offers of admission, letters of rejection, and various financial aid and merit awards, all figuring into the picture. Both decided at about the same time in their search to choose to apply to a college or two that hadn’t been on their lists before, but a friend had mentioned.
But there still wasn’t any falling in love, and winter and spring ticked on by as their friends enthusiastically started sending in deposits, choosing dorms, and joining the student Facebook groups for their new schools.
Both of my girls received offers of overnight college visits from several schools. My older daughter had applied to a special program at one school, and they required a one day interview and an in-person overview of the program. Instead of staying for just the day (it was a five and a half hour drive away) my daughter chose to add the overnight visit, where she would be paired up with a student already in the special program and stay with her overnight before the day of programming.
We dropped her off around 4:00 pm on a frigid early March evening. (This school was in a very cold place!) My husband and I went out for dinner ourselves and then went back to the hotel. We wondered, “Was she having a good time? Was she feeling comfortable? Would college students be interested in talking to a senior in high school?”
The next morning, we headed back to the college to do the day of official programming. We saw her first thing. She was sitting with a group of kids, and she gave us a thumbs-up. We spent part of the day with her and part of the day separated from her. After her interview, late in the afternoon, we met up behind the building she’d been in. “I really want to go here!” she said. She had finally fallen in love.
With my younger daughter, the picture was similar. She’d gone on a lot of college tours and Accepted Students Days and liked most of them well enough. She thought she would do fine at a couple of the schools. But she had applied, at the last-minute, to a school her friend had suggested, which was a reach for her. It was about a 7 hour drive away and we told her we wouldn’t go unless she was offered admission.
She was admitted and an Accepted Student Overnight was held in, again, early March. We made the trek out there on another frigid day (my kids seem to only like colleges in very cold places) and spent our time going to meetings and eating lunch in the cafeteria and waiting outside of classrooms as she sat in to see if she liked the professors.
At the end of the day, we said goodbye. She went off to spend the night with a sophomore who was hosting her. We went out to dinner and back to the hotel. We wondered, “Was she liking it? Was she comfortable? What would a college sophomore have to say to a high school senior?”
We picked her up at 9:30 the next morning and brought her back to the hotel. She was all smiles, with a huge look of relief on her face. “I have to go here,” she said. She had fallen in love.
It’s a few years later now. My older daughter adored her college, got so much out of it, and graduated a year and a half ago. She’s now in graduate school.
My younger daughter is now a college sophomore and loving her school. It is thrilling to watch her loving it the way we had hoped she would.
I’m convinced that without those overnight college visits, my daughters would not have had the outcomes they had. So I urge you, even if the college doesn’t outright offer them, ask for an overnight visit. Just one night can make such a difference.
Photo credit: Daytripper University
Judy Mollen Walters is a five time author of women’s fiction novels, all of which can be found on Amazon, as well as a professional essayist whose work has been featured on WaPo, HuffPo, ScaryMommy, and many other web sites. She also enjoys helping high school seniors develop their own personal essays for their college applications.