Monday, August 19, 2013

How To Pick A College

I know, my blog posts are like buses; nothing for ages, then three come along at once. How did you pick a college when it came time? If you live in the United States and your child is even 15 years old this topic takes up so much airspace it makes you want to book the next plane out.

Harley, 15, visiting Santa Barbara City College

I try but I really can't get interested. Here is my philosophy: it all works out the same in the end, you'll be successful if you were going to be and you can't push your child to do what they don't want to. I think a "good school" will get you a first job but not keep you there or get you a better second job.

But there is so much discussion about college/university in the US (we call it "varsity" in New Zealand), I've had to e-evaluate - am I simply a slacker Mum who doesn't want to put in the work to plump out their kids' resume with multiple eye-catching activities, insist they do all Advanced Placement courses and pay for them to fly to Africa to teach Facebook to the local kids?

While we were down in Santa Barbara we took Harley to see Santa Barbara City College (SBCC). It's a "junior" or two year college - costing around $7,000 a year - and once you've completed two years you are guaranteed to get into a good "four year" state college to complete your degree. (In comparison, fees for a mediocre private college that will take most people will cost up to $60,000 a year.)

From what I understand Junior College used to be an option for kids who didn't have much money or who had done loads of drugs at high school. Now it's an option for many students who have A's, Bs and C's and who have done a couple of sports at High School and other activities but still can't get into the "good" colleges.

The tour of SBCC was impressive and included a deep sea diving centre, a new $12 million theatre where Katy Perry graduated and acres of green fields with views of the mountains and marina. This is a place where learning to surf counts as a credit and Ultimate Frisbee is a school sport.

So what do you think, Harley? we said after completing the tour.
"Tour was a bit long" he said "They should get golf carts to take you round."

He did insist on back-tracking to the bookstore (Hooray! What book had he noticed?)...to buy a red SBCC sweatshirt. We then walked down to the wharf for fish and chips at Brophy Bros.

You know, you still need to apply to four year universities too, we said to Harley as we ate our fish and chips.

Harley looked at us as if we were mad. "But I've got the City College sweatshirt now." Point.

61 comments:

  1. Great post. The college selection process gives me anxiety just thinking about it. And Charlotte is only in 4th grade.

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  2. Love this post. I picked my college based on proximity to me. It was the closest one. Not the best of reasons but I ended up loving it! BTW I figured out how to bypass Blogger's limit to how many blogs one can follow and I am now finally officially following your blog :)

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    1. I just picked my college because my friend Zofia was going there and my grandmother lived there. Actually I don't even think I put that much thought into it.

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  3. I picked the closest one too
    That was it at my zoo
    But I think it is all a crock
    That probably doesn't come as a shock
    95% of it is garbage in the end
    Right around the bend

    You never ever use most of the crap you learn there. Then they make you take electives, which are useless piece of crap courses that make money for them and does nothing for you. What does studying movies or love and death get you? Nadda, I can buy a $20 movie and study it on my couch instead of paying $6000 for a damn useless course. And even worse, your whole 1st year is pretty much what you did in high school all over again. Nonsense, there is my rant for today at your bay.

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    1. I did a law degree and can't remember one single lecture.

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  4. I love how you swim against the tide of hysteria. I think Harley will be fine wherever he goes. But i do think there are some kids in this country (e.g. black kids) for whom attending certain schools makes a huge difference once they get out. It helps hiring managers look beyond any unconscious bias they might have to see that kid. It's not that the kid would not have been as well prepared at another school, but having that name of the resume makes the manager feel, well, this one has a stamp of approval from a respected ivory tower so maybe i'll take a chance on him/her. maybe i should just delete this comment and not get all sociological here, but there are dimensions to this hysteria, and for me it was about deciding what we can ignore and what might actually make a difference. I think you have a very balanced attitude toward the whole thing and Harley's logic about the shirt is airtight!

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    1. Angella, I think you're absolutely right and you make some great points on every level.

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    2. Still, i love your post, and the equanimity about the experience you've allowed your son! I hope you know there's no criticism implied in my comment, just a sharing. i enjoy your blog tremendously, and your sensibility, whether humorous or ironic or wry or serious, especially.

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    3. Angela, appreciate your comment so much! Important to remember as you say that for minorities and underprivileged, attending certain schools make a huge difference in their lives.

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  5. I remember College. I hated picking colleges and applying, writing essays about who I thought I was or wanted to be, taking SAT tests and all the other tripe that didn't do me any good any ways. I think now that if I could go back, I would have gone travelling for a while and then gone to college or something. But, it's cool your boy likes it, I hope he picks one that suits him...though seems he has with the sweatshirt, haha :) xx

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  6. Oh this is so apt for me right now - I feel I'm turning into a pushy Mum. The system here is quite different but after spending the summer touring some of the "better" universities Number 1 son barely has the grades to get into the worst ones!! I'm beside myself although he, apparently, isn't!

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    1. My friends in England say the competition is even worse there because they are comparatively so few universities!

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  7. We just did this the last two years...back to back. Son was easy because we knew what area (the South), environment (medium size/rural)' and major (engineering). Daughter was a crap shoot and we leave in three days to take her. Sob. Sob. If they are happy where they are, they will be successful.

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    1. Love your post today about her growing up. really beautiful!

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  8. I felt a little like this choosing a KINDERGARTEN school. People asked how many I'd toured. I figured we'd all go to our neighbourhood schools, like I'd done at home. But not here. We are school of choice - choose and lottery into another school if you want. After the third tour, I was tired. We lotteried, "won", and now are set... for now!

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  9. Canada is much more laid back, too. I like your attitude!

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    1. So it New Zealand. However it may not be anymore will have to check when I head back for Christmas

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  10. I hated University. My course was crap - and interestingly they did a survey of Uni students in Australia recently, and Architecture had the highest dissatisfaction rating. I followed up with a private (very expensive) course on Interior Design overseas, and learnt more in 3 months than I had in 5 years at Uni. I always tell people (who think I must be really smart to have done Architecture... no idea why (you don't do any maths or physics now, they tell you to leave that to the Engineers)) that my course was an endurance course. Basically, I was more tenacious than the 70% who dropped out along the way. Had nothing to do with talent/ brains at all.
    The college system sounds absolutely dreadful in the US, good luck with motivating Harley, and with the whole entry system. Life has such a long path, with so many twists... I really hate the way that so much importance is placed on a 3 or 4 year degree and deciding your entire future when you are 16 years old xx.

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    1. Hi Heidi, That is very true here in the US too, interestingly. it's one of the hardest courses to get into and then pass because of the math and engineering and also having to be an artist as well and apparently the worse deadlines of any degree. Then people come out and there is no money in it however long you stick at it.

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    2. Agree - absolutely no money! The only reason why Architects have fab houses featured in design mags is because they get lots of stuff free or heavily discounted to the trade, and they generally sell after it's been published in a magazine/ or just been completed, pocket a little bit of money from it and then start on the next one.
      As for the deadlines... dreadful. You used to have to hand up your final design, after pulling all nighters for a week, then stand up in front of your peers and a panel of lecturers, present your work and then have it torn apart verbally. I did cry once (and hated myself for it - humiliating). Oh the happy memories I'm dredging up!

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  11. Harvey sounds a dude and if he's not sweating things, I'd follow his lead.

    My son has to apply to university this year because he sits his Bac next summer so I'm hoping he's been thinking about things these holidays although I doubt it. But I think you're right, if they're going to succeed they'll do it anyway.

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  12. You are completely correct about university. I never went to university, I started working right out of high school, and honestly, aside from a French course I took at the university one semester a few years ago, I have had no desire to go...I would research topics myself on my own time to learn about them. Many people are book-smart and excelled at college, but have no idea how to adapt to an actual work setting.

    I have known way too many people who insist on being "forever students" (always working on "some" degree that never ends, but never actually having a real job or making plans to get a real job).

    Hubs has three degrees (two Bachelors, one Masters), the first two were for fun because he actually wanted to take them, the masters was solely to move up the ladder at work because here in Canada, you definitely need a Masters degree to even attempt to apply for any management position or some higher level position (esp with Government jobs, Financial Institutions, etc). I have to say it has paid off but it was a lot of time and money spent (and, quite frankly, spewing out quite a bit of BS to the profs!) ha ha

    Harley will do just fine and you have the best attitude about it!

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    1. I would have gotten farther by going straight into being a cub reporter at a newspaper, see below about wasted law degree...

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  13. Its a GREAT school from what I hear!Teachers from all over the world come here so they can live in SB!LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION........sounds like he has made up his mind!SMART BOY!

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  14. I never used my law degree (which took seven years) except to do one year at a law firm which confirmed for everyone that I had no lateral thinking (or whatever direction I was supposed to think in...)

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    1. Contessa - so right - the pictures tell the story!

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  15. Right.He looks happy.......YOU will be happy about the $$$........and most importantly he will be close enough to come home more then once a year!!!!!!!!Sounds like a WIN WIN situation to me!

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    1. Save the $$$ to put him up when he comes home after college like ever other kid I know seems to do these days

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  16. I think it's much more bonkers in the UK... I don't think there is a laid back vibe here at all. I'm glad I don't have kids so I don't have to go through the trauma!
    Qx

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  17. It looks like a lot of us are in the same boat. My son also has to start applying to universities for next year and we are trying to think of exciting things he can say in his Personal Statement. My uncle many years ago fibbed that his hobby was wine-making: he didn't even drink the stuff.

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    1. That's actually a really eye catching activity _except that kids can't drink here until they are 21 (!) so may look suspicious...or very Greek Legends depending on how cynical you are

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  18. This is not a process I look forward to in the least! I can only imagine how crazy it will be when we get there....

    ~Alexis Grace of North On Harper

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  19. The whole process seems a bit weird to me. In the olden days (when I went to university), I applied to a couple, and went to the first one which offered to take me. Simple.

    Sadly, I have also learned that having a Bachelor's Degree is hardly enough any more. If you want to do much, you need a Master's degree, or a Ph.D.

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    desert.epiphanies@sasktel.net
    Bears Noting
    Life in the Urban Forest (poetry)

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  20. omg, I'm so relieved to hear you say this and Harley is sooo right, he's got the sweatshirt now. God knows, I spent the best part of my college years passed out on the grass--I mean, studying hard. My poor parents.

    xo Mary Jo

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    1. Yes my friend just said her favourite student bar in Boston was called The Library so she could call her parents without lying and say she was in 'The Library"

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  21. You both have the right attitude.....it will all work out in the end. My daughter did well at a really good University and doesn't have a job yet..she is interning for the Summer and then who knows? but I think worrying is pointless....Harley looks happy and he has you on his side..win/win.
    ps anyone in London need to take on a bright graduate in September??
    pps..sorry I can't be relaxed all the time!

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    1. My relaxation is probably just laziness on my part! i'm sure there are some takers for bright graduates down in Londinium!

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  22. This is such a sensible approach to life that I have no further comment.

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  23. A great post as the complexities and cost of the American system has given me much food for thought when considering a full time move to Ca.

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    1. But what about the mini castle that the wee one will live in?

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  24. I love it when you post about some of the things that he says...the golf cart quote.

    I don't know much about the University system on a national level, but I do know some things have changed through the years, and the junior college like you described as become more popular and is a great option. There is nothing wrong with transferring the last two years, and beginning one's major studies as opposed to the General College stuff.

    I don't think we have many of those in NC that are as good or at all, really.

    I graduated from the University of NC-Chapel Hill and entered as a freshman. Luck was on my side. I don't think I would get it now, and it will be very difficult for my children to get it, especially living where we live because they do take students from all over my State, and of course, we're in a highly populated area so the numbers they take from where we live are even smaller.

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    1. Leigh... I know that is what everyone is saying - that their kids could not get into the colleges they went to. Chapel Hill sounds idyllic!

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  25. Hi Jody, you are right on, as they say.

    I'll have to say I was pretty smart about chosing college. Though I was an advanced placement/honor student who could have gotten into just about any university, I decided a junior college for the first two years would be great for saving some money (it's all general ed units at that stage) and making the transition from high school to college. In addition, who looks at where you go to school the first couple years, it's where you get your bachelor's that determines the next step. After that, I decided to take advantage of all the taxes my parents paid over the years to attend one in the California public university system, among the finest and very respectable for my chosen major, writing off all private and out-of-state colleges. And California is such a large state, you could still easily have an away-to-college experience for that fly-the-nest milestone in life.

    Of course that was back in the day, things seem to be so much more complicated now. I thought the things my niece had to do to have a well-rounded resume to make sure she got into a good school were as if she was competing for the Miss America contest.

    If it's any comfort, I did end up going to a "party school" (along with having a good reputation for my major) and I think I turned out pretty OK with my career. :)

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  26. It's all a bit overwhelming.
    I hate to ask the question, but as a rough, tough, good Kiwi bloke, I've got to ask.

    How much does it cost?

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    1. $7,000 for community college vs up to $60,000 for a four year university....I think NZ has changed too but I used to be pretty flush as a student as I had a job and some sort of grant.

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  27. I recall a similar story from my US friends last year. It's mind boggling how much stress it cases parents and students alike.

    After an almost assured entrance and a week long stay at Cambridge, the kid decided it was WAY too far from WA so he chose Stanford instead. That's a very short flight in comparison. Plus the winters are not so harsh.

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    1. Wow the kids is bright! Two great choices!

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  28. When I look back a the amount of angst I caused myself over nursery/school/college choices, I think I would have fewer stress lines on my ageing visage had I just chilled out a bit. Your first para is spot on. First job - yes. From then on, nobody gives a stuff!

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    1. CQ - I always look to your blog for decent advice - your kids are older than mine and look - you came through it and you're still alive!!

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  29. Jody,
    This post was the best. Really made my night. Harley sounds like our almost 15 year old. I completely agree that this college entry experience has gotten out of hand. You live in an area similar to mine, and the stress about it is real. My son is only a sophomore, yet already parents in our grade have hired private college counselors to start the process of coaching them on their essays and finding the right schools.

    In my heart I just feel like this is something that needs to come from the kids. I hate the feeling that I am letting my kid down if I don't pay this ridiculous amount for this. That doesn't even include all the private SAT tutoring everyone gets as well. The micro-managing never stops. What happens when they get to that elite school and the parents aren't there?

    Let's be honest, it's what you do with your degree that counts the most. There was two wonderful recent articles about the most successful and also the highest paid execs in Silicon Valley and you know what? The top guys all came from San Jose State, then Berkeley, then Stanford. The state school kids are more scrappy and middle class. That can equate to hard workers.

    Junior college sounds like a smart option and perfect for guys like Harley and my son too. I also think kids are so young when they begin college. An extra year or two may help them make a better decision about what they really want to do. That is smart! Harley sounds like he's going to enjoy life and that is a huge part of success in my book!

    You are a good mama Jody. xxKim

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    1. Yes, the coaching Arggh!! Also one girl I know who got into an ivy league said she'd shown her essay to ten professionals, but then is it her real work?

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  30. My grandaughter Alice has just spent a year at Florida Uni
    (Gainsville?)
    Just for interest I 'interviewed' her on her impressions.
    All in all she wouldn't have missed the experience.

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