College: The Big Decision!

I felt pretty confident that M would get into the colleges she liked. Honestly, I thought she’d have a chance at super-crazy-selective school, but she wasn’t interested in applying (whether that was on the merits, because they’re too big, or because she lacked confidence, it’s unclear). But especially with small schools that admit so few people, and with so, so many kids now applying to a crazy number of schools (20+ for some people) , you can’t ever really be sure, and M and Cute W were both more worried than I was.

So that’s where Early Decision came in. The coaches all push ED because then they know they’ve got a committed athlete, and of course the acceptance rates are far better, too. Many colleges that M was interested in were pretty far away, and among the closer colleges she’d already visited, she wasn’t super-enthusiastic about any of them. We decided that M should consider applying somewhere ED, and we told her to pick two “finalists” to visit from among the colleges she liked best that had the most challenging acceptance rates. We hoped that one would be a clear favorite, and we figured that if neither stood out, she’d skip ED, apply to several schools, and see where Fate took her.

It was tough to find a time that would fit into M’s schedule, missing a minimum of school as well as school soccer games. She ended up flying to College #1 over Yom Kippur, a Tuesday to Wednesday, and then she and Cute W drove (far!) to College #2 for a visit just a few days later on Sunday to Monday, which was Columbus Day. Prior to these visits, the two colleges seemed very similar on paper and online, and they were both very appealing to M. I’m a big fan of going with your gut and choosing what feels right, so we were super-curious to see how the visits would go and if one of them would become the clear front-runner.

The trip to College #1 got off to a rough start when flight delays meant that M spent more time at the airport and less time on campus. Then she was gone and basically incommunicado, and we were intentionally resisting the urge to ask how it was going because we wanted to give her the chance to experience and process it all herself. We picked her up very late on Wednesday night, and she said that she really liked it, and she seemed very happy. But she was also completely exhausted, and she had school the next morning, followed by a soccer game, so we didn’t pump her for too much information. After the soccer game, though, it was Back to School Night at the high school, and one of M’s teachers, who knows her very well, brought up the college visit and indicated that M was super, super excited about where she’d just visited, and that she got the impression that it was M’s first choice. And Cute W and I just sort of smiled and said “hmmm,” because we were trying to stay low-key and neutral, at least until the visit to College #2 was over.

For the College #2 visit, Cute W and M drove to a soccer game she had scheduled on Saturday that was an hour from home going in the direction of the school, and then they continued from there. She arrived on Sunday to spend the afternoon and an on-campus overnight with prospective teammates followed by a class visit and an interview on Monday. Cute W, meanwhile, was staying at a nearby hotel doing work on his laptop, waiting for her to be done so that they could head home. Then, on Monday morning, we started getting texts. M did not like College #2, College #2 was definitely not for her, and she would like to leave asap, except that all of her belongings were locked in a dorm room while the people who had keys were in class and M had a schedule to keep. . . but also wasn’t this a waste of time. . . ? Because this college was a capital N No. To make this whole situation more dramatic/comic, M’s school team had a practice on Monday evening, and if she missed the practice, she would have to stay on the bench for the first half of the next soccer game against a tough team. Which she’d been resigned about. But now that she knew that College #2 was a No, there was a chance that she could bug out early and Cute W could race her home in time to make practice and be eligible to play the whole game. There was a flurry of texting, M made her excuses and got someone to break into the dorm room for her stuff, and Cute W and M drove like crazy in order to arrive just in time for the practice.

Phew! We let the dust settle for a few days, and some more details came out, and M decided to apply to College #1 ED.

And here’s where I’ll go ahead and say that College #1 is Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa. And if that sounds familiar at all, it’s because that’s where Cute W and I both went (and where we met). Early on, M had said that there was no way she’d go to Iowa, and we said okay, that’s valid. And then things evolved. Which is part of why we were trying to stay hands-off and studiously neutral. Later, when we asked her what made her decide on Grinnell, she said it was the people, that the people were the best. I think she was impressed that the students she met came from a variety of backgrounds, and she liked that the women’s soccer team members all got along and hung out with each other and supported each other. There were charming details, like that the senior soccer players traditionally live in a house together and cook the whole team dinner on farmers’ market days.

Then, when M went to College #2, apparently most of the team members were hung over and the dining hall was so dismal and gloomy that the thought of having to go there every day was just too depressing to contemplate. Cute W and I had never visited this college before, so it was a surprise how negative her reaction was (and so we’re leaving it anonymous online, because I’m sure many, many students love it dearly).

M was accepted to Grinnell, and with the financial aid package, it’s fairly close to the same price we would have paid for a SUNY school. She is very excited to go. I honestly never thought that this was how the college search would turn out. She will be far away — it takes a 16 hour drive or 2 flights to get there. But whenever I hear about kids coming home to visit over the weekend, it makes me a little sad for them that they don’t love college so much that they’d rather stay there all the time. And it’s comforting that she’ll be someplace that feels like home to us.

More than six years ago I wrote something about M that turned out to be prescient:

“M looks exactly like all the girls in college whom I imagined Cute W would end up dating. We were friends for the first three semesters of school. Cute W played soccer, and he was friendly with most of the women on the women’s soccer team. There was a whole little crowd of them who just seemed way too cool for me. They were all kick-butt jocks, and they were just effortlessly adorable in their comically oversized socks and slide shoes, their hair pulled back in messy ponytails. They weren’t fancy, but they had that mixture of confidence and power and fresh air that made them seem, to me, like pint-sized superheroes. Before Cute W kissed me, it never occurred to me that he could possibly be interested in me with those awesome girls walking around, and I remain somewhat baffled that he ended up with me instead of one of them. And now, would you look at this?

I’m raising one of those girls.”

At the time, I had no idea how right I was about that one.


  1. Kristen

    That’s wonderful and SO nice she found a school perfect for her! I have never met you but have read your blog for years, we moved to Buffalo from Nisky when my oldest was 11 (I think he was in Mr. Neely’s class with M) and I can’t believe how fast it went. It’s an exciting time but also a little sad. You must be very proud (and relieved it’s all settled!)

  2. Aw, Kristen, so nice to hear from you, and I remember your name from way-back-when! I am VERY happy not to think about these decisions anymore — how about your oldest, does he know what he’s doing with himself? It all HAS been bittersweet! Our babies. . . .

  3. Kristen

    He has a couple early action acceptances but hasn’t heard from his top choices yet. It’s tough because I want him to go to a school he loves but some of the tuition rates are shocking! And thank you for writing your blog, I really enjoy it, your family’s closeness is inspiring.

  4. Ugh, yes, tuition is crazy! At the HS college nights they suggested that if you don’t have a clear favorite you can email the schools directly once they want you to see if they can offer a better package. And thank YOU for reading! And for commenting (at long last 😉 )

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