College Planning 2.0

Coming to you from the backwoods of Maine, its a long-winded post on visiting colleges, a.k.a. I thought I knew what Byron would be doing next year, but when I actually asked him, he had other ideas (plus a stroll down memory lane as I recall my own college selection process).

(If you want an update on Teddy, know that he’s doing well enough to have started school back up this week much to his dismay. He was also able to go to our local church just down the street for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Not sure he’s up for the 25 minute drive to our usual parish, but it was nice to all go as a family again.)

Back to college planning. Just to back track a bit, I’ve never been the type to stress about college (at least until Addie’s senior year of high school). Getting my kids into an Ivy League school has never been our goal as parents. So I always figured college, or trade school, or religious life, or a gap year- whatever! would just sort itself out. I don’t recall my parents ever directing me. They took me to one college fair, and one admissions presentation for RIT, and basically said they couldn’t afford to send me to any of the places I was interested in so keep looking. I saw a presentation for a small two year art school in the fall of my senior year of high school and decided that’s where I’d go to study photography. It was the only place I applied to and I toured zero campuses. When I realized I made a mistake pretty much right away, I applied to Kutztown University (a PA state school) because someone at the art school I was attending said it had a good photography program. My mom had attended there, but graduated with a degree in education. I’d never toured the campus or knew anything else about it. I started there in the spring of my freshman year. Thankfully, it worked out and I graduated in May 2000 with a BA in General Studies (meaning I designed my own major to include primarily writing and photography courses).

All this is to say, I have no first hand experience of how to stress about “getting into the right school” or even deciding between multiple schools. Tony looked at a few schools, picked one to play football at, and when that didn’t work out, and he decided to switch majors, he wound up at Kutztown University with me his sophomore year. All both of us have ever been concerned about is helping our kids graduate college (if they choose to go to college) with as little debt as possible. We had minimal debt when we graduated and that made all the difference for us. So, while there are several very nice Catholic colleges that my friends rave about, getting my child to attend a Catholic college, or say Harvard, has never been our primary goal. (I understand the spiritual benefits to attending a Catholic college but I’m just not sold on the idea that my children NEED to attend one of a select number of colleges to be good Catholics.)

When Addie started looking, fencing was a big consideration and it was only then I learned about all the NCAA regulations. It threw a huge monkey wrench in my low stress, laid back approach to college. (As did COVID and a freshman year spent at home.) Ultimately, now that she’s settled in at Cleveland State University and approved by the NCAA to officially fence (yay!), we can heave a sigh of relief and say it all worked out for the best. It’s an affordable education in the field of her choosing. It’s allowing her to fence competitively at the collegiate level, and she’s found a good spiritual home there, along with good friends and teammates.

I thought I could try the laid back approach with Byron. He’s been taking lots of art classes at the community college, as well as regular classes for dual credit and I thought he would graduate high school, and within another year, get his Associates in Fine Art from the community college. But in checking with Byron as we planned out the fall semester, (“Is this still what you want to do???”) he said that while he enjoyed art he realized he didn’t want to make a career out of it. He instead wanted to study creative writing with the goal of becoming a screen writer, and he wanted to go away to college, (far away actually), rather than continue to attend the community college after graduation.

“That’s FINE!” I said with no discernible surprise. “We just need to totally revamp what you’re doing this year then. NO BIG DEAL!” And so he signed up for the SAT, we picked classes for his senior year with a goal of attending a four year college, and we started looking for affordable colleges and universities where he could study creative writing. We picked a couple to visit before winter break, and he’ll spent his free time around Christmas applying to his top choices. Thankfully, we’ve already got the FAFSA filed. I know it will all work out fine, JUST FINE THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

But it’s all so last minute again. Edie will be a junior next year and I’ve finally learned that as much as I want to be laid back, we’ll need to do some planning in the spring of 2023, if not before.

But geez, I can’t think about Edie now, let’s get back to Byron. We visited my alma mater Kutztown on December 3. It’s been 21 years since I walked over the campus and obviously, a lot has changed. I took zero nice pictures of Byron and I and about a million of random things I needed to text to Tony. “Look! They still have this ugly sculpture on campus!” “They named the stadium after Andre Reed!” “They finally fixed up the alumni brick grills!” I also had to text my former roommates as the building we had stayed in our senior year is now the “Honors Hall”. Ha! I’m putting that on my resume. Byron liked Kutztown, and being there made me strangely nostalgic. It’s super affordable, and I can attest that the writing program is solid, so I’m probably a bit biased, but I think it’s a good contender.

Sculpture I’ve been making fun of since 1997.

This weekend, Byron and I are in Farmington Maine. MAINE! I’ve never been so far north. Byron wants to be somewhere colder, so we looked at the Maine state college system and he decided to tour University of Maine Farmington. We flew into Augusta from Boston on a Cessna 402, which is a tiny plane. It was us and one other passenger and the pilot. As we walked onto the tarmac to board I started to question what I’d signed us up for. There’s something about a huge plane that feels safer to me. All I could think was, is this the type of plane JFK Jr died in????? (Google search determined it was not.) But it was fine. It was a beautifully scenic flight that brought us to Augusta’s tiny airport. I’d reserved a compact car but all they could offer me was a Ford F150 pickup. Of course there was already snow on the ground.

Here I am, not worried about dying like JFK Jr and Carolyn Bessette at all.

We took the campus tour in 17 degree weather with snow blowing all around us, sat for an exciting admissions presentation (any other parent of a high school junior/senior knows this is a bold-faced lie), and then got a free lunch in the cafeteria. I will say that Byron is much more enthusiastic about University of Maine than I am. I’m not super excited about traveling back and forth to Maine but we’ll see what happens after all the applications go out. I think I’ll be sold if I see a moose while we’re here. There’s two other schools he’s considering that we won’t tour unless he’s accepted.

Here’s Byron already thinking about his move to Maine.

Figuring out this college thing is quite the adventure. As a homeschooler I’ve always had a much larger say over my children’s education than most parents. Now, I’m turning all that over to them to figure out on their own, to follow their own educational pursuits, and hoping that I did enough and didn’t put them at a disadvantage.

My one big piece of advice to other homeschool parents is that taking community college courses in high school has definitely helped us all. Me by outsourcing higher level courses, and the kids by exposing them to other teachers, acclimating them to a “college scene”, allowing them to choose courses related to their interests, and helping them save money down the road with transfer credits.

I’ll let you know how COLLEGE DECISION 2.0 goes in subsequent posts in which I also consider why a child of mine who wishes to pursue writing so adamantly dislikes my preferred genre of non-fiction. So much more self-reflection and second guessing to come!!

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4 Comments

  1. I went to a Catholic college…it was not a good experience spiritually. And not because I was a wild child– the people in charge of student spiritual formation were basically running a cult.

    Just because it’s Catholic doesn’t mean it’s good. I don’t regret my degree, but I do wish I’d been more open minded while I was looking.

  2. You mean you didn’t spend your summer vacations traveling only to places with colleges someone wanted to tour? 😉
    I think for most people, a tour of a few different size/type schools is good. However, visiting 10 or more is ludicrous .All colleges have libraries, athletic fields, cafeterias, study abroad, etc. It’s what you take out of the school that matters. (I’m on hiatus between college hunt #6 and #7, so I have some experience in this matter. I also want my next set of kids to be auto mechanics, plumbers, or nurses so I never have to do another college visit again.)
    I hope the rest of his search goes smoothly, and that you don’t have more stress than he does!

  3. Great read, thank you. Our family is in the same stage of life. Community College, Trade School, it’s all on the table. Our oldest son ended up at a Catholic University in our home state and is doing great. I’m so happy for him. It’s not in colder weather but it’s got a film program if you’d like to check it out. https://jpcatholic.edu/
    Thanks again and blessings to you and your family.

  4. First, brrrr! Second, I’m with you on small planes. I transferred college after my first year, too, and that experience taught me a ton about listening to my gut and not digging in my heels to prove I was right. Take 2 was much better for me. All the best to Byron.

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