Final College Visits

 Though it seems as if the season came and went, Dad and the oldest took what should be the final two college visits earlier this spring.    This trip actually came on the heels of the Titus 2:1 Conference in Washington, D.C., and after I headed home, those two kept traveling north to look at a couple of intriguing places for our daughter’s new home.   She’d never experienced the northeast before, with all of its hussle and bussle, its pace, and its “real-ness,” so to speak, so Philadelphia was a great place to see very different sides of a different part of the world.

You’ll forgive me that, between recuperating from illness as well as taking too long to post this entry after the actual trip, my summaries are alot shorter than some of the earlier visits we took to different campuses.  

Philadelphia University was in many ways a perfect school for our daughter.    It is suburban , but still allows access to all of Philadelphia.     It is a smaller school, which we wanted for her, given that she’s leaving from a school population of 3.   The college had wonderful opportunities within her intended major, both academic and otherwise.    She could stay an extra year and receive a Masters’, which was a strong plus.    Also, the University had done a great job of incorporating current trends and issues into the program design, making it more relevant for a person just entering school.    There was a significant emphasis placed on using your knowledge, skills and talents to give back to the community through service; I think this is where our volunteer queen began to fall in love.   

Yet, its rustic charm and secluded campus left her with a looming question: will I really fit in here?   Everything about the school is northeast suburban; there were no cheap chains at which to eat, no student-friendly places to shop, and in general, no obvious love for the have-to-ask-cuz-you-can’t-afford-it crowd.

We move on.

Drexel had nearly everything that our budding academician wanted, especially the focus on co-ops as an integral part of the graduation process.   The campus was large enough to offer numerous extracurricular opportunities.      And she still recalls that, unlike Philadephia U, she did see a Chick-Fil-A  🙂    

There was just one BIG problem, at least from where the oldest stood:

Drexel is in the heart of downtown Philadelphia.   Though our girl is a city girl, a city of this size was a bit overwhelming for her.    Her dad also took her on a short city bus ride and through the subway system so that she could get an even more realistic sense of what her life would be.    She left convinced, at least for the moment, that this school might not be as high on the list as some others.    Bear in mind that my comments about public transportation are not meant as a slam on anyone who has to or chooses to use these ways to get around.   But as a southwestern girl who has lived in a town built for wide open speed all her life, the oldest’s experience was…an adjustment, shall we say?

I give her this credit, though.   After getting home and thinking about it more, she didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and is still taking  a hard look at both schools.

Perhaps the best part of this trip for me is that she got to see Washington, D.C., as well as Philadephia.   These are, for whatever other issues they may have, two of the most historically significant cities in our nation, and ground that I’ve wanted to cover with all the children.   

Though most of these places you can’t just walk up and touch or take a tour as you did when I was there, it is still a history moment like no other when you see the place that you spent weeks reading about in a book and realize the spirit of what came before you.

Rocky Balboa climbed these same steps in his now infamous celebration dance.   May she soar equally as high, whereever she goes.

More College Visits

As I posted in my highlights for February post, in addition to the busy-ness of home life and homeschool, we are also in full swing with the process of helping our oldest make a decision regarding where she’ll spend the next several years once she leaves our home.   You can see our first college visit here.   Dad hit the road with her this month (envision Martin Lawrence with Raven Symone in “College Road Trip”)–two universities, two markedly different experiences, two consequently different impressions.

The first stop:

Visiting Texas Womens’ University was more of a parent-driven activity than anything encouraged by the oldest, and that bit of background seemed to shape the day.   If it is any indication of her lack of interest, these pictures were captured by my husband on his cell phone; the oldest took none with her camera.


We really liked the size of this campus.    Although the oldest envisions herself at a larger state school (though not too large), we see the potential for large state school-related distractions, and would prefer a more intimate environment.   She also had no interest in attending a single-sex university, so it is good, at least for her,  that TWU is now opening its doors to males.   Though male enrollment is small, it is a step in the right direction for our daughter’s perceived needs.   The campus is also very near Dallas, where there are a number of outside cultural events related to her interests.  Last, but certainly not least, this campus is the most cost-effective for us of all the places that she’s shown interest in thus far.   It is not far from home, and the tuition, etc., are very affordable.   This was perhaps the point where we were willing to push her to at least take a look, pointing out to her that her brother is not far behind her, so we have to make decisions that benefit all parties involved.


The biggest disappointment was that TWU did not sell the program that interests her well at all.  

First, the program head had a scheduling conflict, and consequently, students were there to represent her particular school.    Though there was some value in this, and students can definitely offer a perspective, there was no one to speak to the program at a high level–approach to learning, philosophy behind the what and why of courses required, availability of internships and how they happen, etc.  I loved the fact that this level of conversation was so critical to our daughter; where did this mature young lady come from? 😉

My husband was also not pleased by the limited housing offered to students–a big consideration for me, at least, as I’ve experienced the horror of having to find apartments, inconsiderate roommates, etc. when housing was no longer available.   My husband also felt that there was no ideal “perfect” housing for a student’s needs (internet access, safety in the evening versus traffic through the university, etc.)

Our daughter returned home a bit more in like, but definitely not in love, with this campus.

Not long after, she made her second trip in as many weeks.


 I’ll answer the obvious question first, with all the candor that is me: “Why is a black girl from Texas even considering Iowa State University?” I’m glad you asked!  😉

In the fall of 2010, the oldest attended a local college fair.   For obvious reasons, the lines to see representatives of UT (in these parts that’s Texas, not Tennessee) and Texas A&M were long.   Other schools were helpful, but not necessarily engaged in a conversation that “sold” their school, so to speak.    The ISU rep impressed the oldest, and she was increasingly intrigued when we shared that my middle sister completed work for her Doctorate there–largely at the University’s expense.   Indeed, the rep spoke of a number of scholarship opportunities that could possibly be available to the oldest, and went out of his way to follow up on all of her questions.   They have subsequently “courted” the oldest with a barrage of e-mails, post cards, etc. from then until now.   In short, they spoke all of our language.   BUT, this is also our cold-natured girl who walks around the house with a bathrobe on top of day clothes–in July.   Our immediate reservation was that Iowa in the winter would be entirely too cold for her.   She was insistent that she could handle it, so we bought her the warmest category jacket Land’s End sold, insulated all-weather boots, and packed her off for a trip up to Ames in the midst of a snowstorm.

From my husband’s perspective, this was a very different experience from dragging the horse to water at TWU; she LOVED it.





(Notice the immediate difference in quantity and quality of pictures!)


Perhaps this is the case with all larger, state schools, but this place knew a thing or two about how to recruit a potential candidate.   We were called days before her visit to be sure that we were coming; they knew her intended major, who would be there, and all the amenities were laid out.    She spoke with everyone, from a resident advisor, to the admissions director, to the department head for her intended major, and of course, to other students.    The facilities were exceptional.   I feared momentarily that she’d had a brief love affair with the snow–rare in these parts–but she returned home sharing a number of advantages of their program:

1) it is one of the top rated in the country for her field

2) internships–domestic or overseas–are required as a part of graduation completion

3) housing is guaranteed for all four years (again, more peace of mind for me than for her)

4) strong support system in terms of mandatory meetings with various advisors

5) there is a dance program in addition in addition to her field of study

(Incidentally, TWU had several of these benefits, too, but you had to work much harder to find these things out).


Our first concern was the level of diversity.   When my sister attended this same school years ago, our niece remembered vividly going to church and having someone ask to feel her skin.  In fact, neither of them left the area with fond memories.  Before we as a family of girls embraced our natural hair, finding a salon once our daughter left home was a huge concern.   Thankfully, the Lord has ordered our steps such that she won’t have to worry about that quite as much.   The University is more diverse than I would have thought, but there is still the reality that Iowa isn’t exactly what one would consider a melting pot.

The weather poses some obvious concerns as well, as I stated earlier, for our cold-natured daughter.   I’m still not convinced that she’d survive 4 winters of 26 degrees as a high–very different than 1 day.    However, she feels as if she can make it, and each time I’ve questioned how realistic is this opportunity for her, her response has been, “Well, Mom, you just have to layer and bundle up.”   I simply don’t want our money bundled up in beauracracy if she decides this wasn’t as she thought after the first close encounter with months of winter.

Closely associated with the weather concern is the transportation issue.   Our vision was that our daughter would probably take what is now our second car to school with her.  She’s in no hurry to drive in Texas heat; how in the world will she navigate  in Iowa snow?    She quickly caught wind of the shuttle system that is widely available throughout the campus and around town (Ames is a big college town), and has stated numerous times that the shuttle is a viable option to her having to drive around in conditions that are not comfortable for her.

She obviously enjoyed the tour.   So as of right now, it is a definite possibility.   She has one more trip to take in late April.   I look forward to the “come to Jesus” we’ll have this summer regarding her fantasies versus our realities.  Start praying, friends.

Where in the World…?

“What college was that?” AJ inquired.

Honestly, Washington University at St. Louis was nowhere on our radar screen. We’d not heard much about this school, though I knew it was mentioned in the same breath as Rice, Northwestern, and other universities with which we are more familiar. St. Louis was not what you’d call a fashion hub, which is key for our daughter’s interests. It was waaaaaayyy out of what we considered our price range (then again, given the expense of college, what is in our price range?) So when they followed up with the oldest after a brief conversation at a college fair, we didn’t think too much of it. Then I spoke with a cousin whose daughter eventually chose to attend there. My cousin’s advice was something along the lines of, “You really should take a look at it. Their communication with our daughter has been great, and they are well-endowed. That was enough to spark our interest, and who’d have thought? They had the degree program she wanted.

One thing I’ve noticed with a college-bound child: your expenses for college begin long before you actually kiss that graduated senior goodbye. In looking at what are right now the oldest’s top considerations, we’ve concluded that her college road trips will probably be our family vacations for the next year or so. Her closest choice is 10 hours away. I stepped onto my undergrad campus sight unseen, but ideally I’d want a different experience for her. So Dad and I had to put our heads together and figure out how to get her around such that she can actually look at some of these places past what’s offered in the brochures. This series of fall orientation programs worked perfectly for our budget, if not for our schedule—Dad couldn’t get the whole four weekdays off. So, the kids and I hit the road.

The visit was similar to what we’ve seen in a number of campus brochures:

  1. Welcome/ orientation
  2. General assembly with administrative office personnel/ faculty/ student representatives
  3. Campus tour
  4. Social event with the opportunity to meet others from the University
  5. Sample class visitation

Unfortunately for us, the classes in her desired program were not in session the day that we were scheduled for orientation, so we missed out on sitting in an actual class. BUT, the blessing was that we did get to see the classrooms and view some of the handiwork of the students.

Rather than spend time with a chronological walk through the day, I’d rather document, if only for myself, the advantages and disadvantages of the school, from our particular point of view.

Advantages (in no particular order)

  1. Well over 80% of the classes are conducted with 25 students or less.
  2. Academic advice is plentiful. Each student is assigned a 4-year advisor, an advisor for their major, and several other advisors whose titles escape me. AND, if your major changes, your advisors change.
  3. All classes except the freshman year writing course are taught by professors as opposed to graduate assistants, doctoral candidates, etc. This was probably less important to her than to me, having had bad experiences with international grad students where all types of barriers became issues.
  4. You do not have to clarify a major until the 2nd semester of your sophomore year. In fact, many students have double majors, a major and minor, etc. We thought this was a HUGE advantage given that many schools, including both our alma maters, make transfers difficult, as my husband testifies when he no longer found accounting fascinating and transferred into the communications degree program. Making the decision of what you want to do with the rest of your life can be overwhelming for a kid who’s seen so little of life, and even those that think they know (like our daughter) can have a total change of heart after a few classes.
  5. Housing is guaranteed all 4 years. I won’t mention the experiences I had living off-campus for 4 of my 5 years, but let’s just say that I was relieved to think that our child wouldn’t be forced to find housing away from a dorm.
  6. Numerous opportunities exist to spend a semester abroad, an important consideration for our daughter.
  7. The school exists in a large city (though not too large). This was as much a consideration for our daughter as for us, but she is not a small-town girl, and we wanted all the options that cities offer in terms of extending the college experience.

There are a number of seemingly inconsequential benefits, but when thinking about comfort, safety, and calling a place home for 4 years, they make all the difference in the world:

  1. Several of the cafeterias, on-campus eating establishments, etc., stay open as late as 2-3 a.m. For a kid whose bio-rhythm runs very differently from the rest of the house, access to food at non-standard hours is important.
  2. There are numerous social groups and activities available. I have friends who’ve attended colleges where you had to be a part of this or that organization in order to fit in.
  3. The food was good, with lots of variety. The picky eater found her customary chicken nuggets and fries, and she was at home. Our son even found vegetarian entrees. (Did I mention that the school is now on his list?)
  4. Free cable if you bring a TV.  Wow.

Our list of disadvantages, or rather, things to consider and pray about, was much smaller, but significant, none the less.

Places to pray and to ponder

  1. Her degree program is a small program in a small school. Though this University is prestigious, this program might not be the ideal choice compared to some of the programs we’ve seen at other schools.
  2. The definition of co-ed has changed since I went to school. I
    stayed in a co-ed, off-campus dorm for 3 years. Co-ed meant that there were floors with young ladies, and floors with young men. This living arrangement, which raised my parents’ eyebrows 25 years ago, is now considered as “traditional.” The “modern” living arrangements were such that females and males lived on the same floor (though not in the same room). The images that sped through my mind…
  3. Neighborhood? The immediate neighborhood surrounding the University is everything I’ve come to expect of what attaches itself to larger/ more prestigious colleges—tons of shops, restaurants, and more opportunities to take a kids’ limited dollars than anyone could imagine. It’s a matter of a mile before the gentrification ends, and the hood begins. Could those highly secured dorms with the door alarms be in place for a totally different reason?
  4. Assimilation? I laughed inwardly during the tour as I noticed all the African-American families gravitating, almost in unison, toward the one African-American tour guide. I think as parents we all wanted to know the same thing in a predominately non-African American environment: what’s been your experience here? More specifically, how much of who you really are stayed at home in order to fit in here? In fact, I know at least two families wanted to know because we talked about it later. Yet, none of us asked. In my case, at least, I simply couldn’t find the words to ask a pointed race question amongst a racially mixed crowd. When I returned home, I later found this blog post while casually surfing the Internet; now I’d know exactly what to ask: Why did you choose this school? It might not have gotten me the answer I wanted, but perhaps I’d have more of a clue. Perhaps with a follow-up question I’d get my answer. In this day and age it’s crazy to think that just because someone has your skin coloring that his/her upbringing and life experience would be the same as yours. Yet, there are some races that we all run, and it would have been nice to know what hurdles exist in advance. I imagine that anyone potentially transitioning into an environment where most others are different goes through something similar.

This was our 1st visit in this level of detail. We met several alumni who now work for the University, including several who spoke to some of the racial questions and considerations we had. We met the head of the financial aid office—never a bad thing. I talked at length with another parent, a strange angel, who was on her 5th campus visit and had all kinds of unsolicited, but meaningful, advice. We missed seeing our cousin, but altogether, we left feeling as if this might be a strong contender for home for our daughter, and who knows? Our son, too?

Must Haves for High School

Shopping for back-to-school supplies?    The sales ads will attempt to sell you everything except the kitchen sink as a back-to-school necessity.   Here are my thoughts on some intangibles for parents of homeschooled high schoolers, published at Heart of the Matter Online.   Be blessed.