During the last few weeks, my oldest son and I have been visiting colleges. At first, I was scared to death to start this process. I gave myself a deadline of January of his junior year to start making appointments. I pushed our start date back to February, and finally started scheduling them in March.
We’ve visited five colleges so far, ranging from a large state school with a student body of 40,000 to a small private school with 1,200 students. Since we know for sure that our son wants to study film, it has helped narrow down the list significantly. At this point, he doesn’t want to move to California, and there aren’t a ton of schools in the midwest with a great film program. Of those that do have a film major, it’s often focused more on broadcast journalism, rather than creative film making, which is his passion.
We were both pretty nervous heading into our first college visit. We spent our two-hour car ride talking about what college life would be like and the pros and cons of a big school versus a smaller one. But by the time we visited our fifth university on Friday, we both felt like we were experts at visiting colleges. We have a much better idea what we are looking for and know what questions to ask.
In fact, it’s possible that one of us might go a little overboard on asking questions during these visits. Many of the film departments are part of a communications program. And when your mom has spent most of her career working in communications, she can get a little overly enthusiastic probing innocent college professors and department heads about their programs.
Our second college visit was to a smaller private school where the head of the communications department spent an hour and a half with us one-on-one. A few days earlier, we had gone on a tour with hundreds of other prospective students at a much larger school, so we couldn’t believe that we were getting such personalized attention. At one point during our interview… um, I mean… conversation… the professor remarked that he felt kind of bad that I had stumped him three times with my questions. Oops!
We like to describe our fourth college visit as a cozy campground. We loved this small Christian college set in a quaint wooded area in the western suburbs. We arrived a few minutes late to the opening presentation, just as some guy was telling all of the prospective students to put his cell phone number in their phone and call or text him with any questions. Andrew followed instructions, labeling the contact as “Mr. UniversityName.”
We learned a little later that the guy up front was actually the president of the university! Later in the day, the parents had a private lunch while the students ate together in the cafeteria. Just by chance, Mr. UniversityName came and sat down right by me for lunch! (You can probably guess where this is going.)
We had a great talk at lunch during which I had the unique chance to ask him some very specific questions about their film program and plans for the future. He was super helpful in guiding me through their thought process and whether the school would be a good fit for our son. And I promise, I did let the other parents ask questions, as well.
I decided to take him up on his earlier invitation to send him a text message at the end of the day. He connected with me on LinkedIn, and then through a few other exchanges over e-mail, he ended up inviting me to be a guest speaker in one of his classes. 🙂
Thankfully, my son has not given up on going to college visits with his mom, who now seems to see these as much as networking opportunities for her as college visits for him.
We visited our fifth college on Friday, and I think I made some big improvements in not asking too many questions or texting any college presidents. In fact, we sat by ourselves at both breakfast and lunch, and we were a little disappointed that no one from the school even came by to say, “Hi.”
We attended a class in which a group of students was giving a presentation on the history of the Internet. They boringly recited the timeline of the Internet, which I didn’t even realize was invented the same year I was born. Their presentation felt more like a timeline of significant events in my life, rather than an explanation of something that happened long ago before the students were born. I resisted the urge to raise my hand during the Q and A session to quiz them on net neutrality, the deep web or their views on government regulation of the Internet.
Finally, we went to an open house in which the head of the film department gave a presentation on their mission, classes and opportunities. She was going through a slide show, pointing out students who have gone on to find careers in film. In one slide, she was telling us about the opportunity for students to spend a semester in Hollywood. She showed us a photo of the guy who organizes the program, and casually mentioned that his name is Andrew Neil. My son’s name is Andrew Neal.
“Wait? What?” I asked. There were only two other students in the presentation so she knew everyone’s name. “Oh, yes,” she laughed. “His name really is Andrew Neil.”
It was a freakish moment in which I was trying to decide if this was a sign from God or just an odd coincidence. Or maybe it was just a reminder for a crazy mom about who the college visits are really for. 🙂
Anyway, that will go down as one of the many funny memories that we’ve had the last few weeks traveling all over the place visiting colleges together. I can’t say that I’m ready to let my baby go off to college. But we are getting one step closer to tackling what feels like the most daunting challenge we have faced so far as parents. And instead of it feeling super scary, I’m starting to get excited for him about what lies ahead!