Applying to and getting into college these days is more science than art. With so many kids applying, parents, teens, and those who prey on their fears tend to enter into a whirlwind of anxiety and angst during Junior year, and many well before that. I saw several terrifying books in the library promoting intensive four-year plans for college admission that would put a marketing genius to shame. There are simply too many college-bound kids, and not enough spaces in the popular colleges.
I have a middle-of-the-road kid. The B+ average in high-level classes, decent test scores, and state champion Mock Trial team membership make him just one among thousands. He writes extremely well, likes History, does well enough in math, and hates Chemistry. He's not terribly ambitious at this point, and really has no grand plan for his future. Maybe Business, maybe Political Science or Law, maybe Engineering or Computer Science. In short, a typical 17 year old. I'm a firm believer in letting career and personal goals unfold as they do naturally, and hold no patience with those who proclaim that the four years one spends in which college will determine future happiness. That said, it is obvious that each kid needs to find a place that is a good match for them personally and academically.
To help Dan try to whittle down choices, we spent a few days visiting a variety of colleges, mostly in the Pennsylvania area.We were mostly focusing on "type" to see what sort of environment appeals, as a way to explore what sorts of schools to actually apply to.
Here's some shots from the University of Pittsburgh.
We visited NYU, Drexel in Philadelphia, University of Pittsburgh, Gettysburg College, Dickenson College, Penn State, University of Delaware, and University of Connecticut. His clear favorite was the University of Pittsburgh ("Pitt"). He loved the location, the size, the programs, the mixture of students, the kids he talked with. He feels very comfortable in cities, and loves the vitality of the more urban campuses. He hated the smaller, more suburban colleges. Delaware, NYU and Drexel also got top marks, although Drexel would be best if he had a clearly defined major because their co-op program entails coursework in a declared major freshman year. I was very pleasantly surprised by Delaware, and less enthusiastic about NYU.
Penn State has a gorgeous campus, thousands of blonde girls in polos and madras shorts, and enough "ra ra" to choke a mule. The ex-cheerleader captain (really!) admissions person made us all cheer "We are...Penn State." Several times. As Dan commented, "I love football, but four years of this could make me hate it."
We all adored Pittsburgh. The city has beautiful neighborhoods of victorian and arts and crafts houses that are obviously well maintained and loved, charming commercial areas, a bustling downtown, enough gritty urban reality to give it balance, and even good coffee.
It's a starting point. Medium sized school, freshman profile that matches his grades and scores, urban setting, lots of programs, a three-hour airplane trip back home to Boston. Now he just needs to bring that Chem grade up a bit.