Some time around middle school I started hearing some phrases quite often: “you’ll need that for college”, “you’ll do that in college”, “just wait till you’re in college”. Every choice I made was weighed out by the effect it had on me going to college. It wasn’t my parents who said these things. One, had never even complete elementary school and was hoping I’d opt out and turn pro instead on the women’s professional tennis circuit. The other, didn’t attend college in the United States and therefore the entire concept was foreign to her. It was teachers, coaches and other parents who brought up the topic of college. The closer I got to my senior year the more they talked about it. I’m not sure why either. It was pretty obvious by 7th or 8th grade that, barring an injury, I was going to get a full tennis scholarship and would end up somewhere pretty decent. But none of this dissuaded the conversation of college. And yet, I had never set foot on a campus or was ever given the opportunity to see what this big end goal was all about.
The first time I actually went to tour a college campus was on my first recruiting trip in my junior year of high school. It was intimidating. But, even on all five of my recruiting trips I wasn’t taken to a classroom or inside an academic building. The dorms, gym, tennis courts and dining halls were more important. I made the transition from high school to college just fine although it was quite nerve racking. I felt a bit blind-sided. I prepared myself by watching St. Elmo’s Fire and other 80’s movies set in colleges. Even Dead Poet’s Society seemed to convey the collegiate experience even though it took place in a boarding school. TV never replaces the real thing. I wished I had been better prepared. To this day I find it odd parents and educators talk about college all the time, even earlier now but rarely do they tell kids to go visit a campus.
The dialogue of college started early with my girls. One is seven and the other is three. Every year science camp is near USC so the conversation has been brought up. We’ve run on Pepperdine’s lovely green lawn. We visited a friend at the University of Chicago and we often go to Pierce College for swim or soccer practice. Pierce also has a lovely farm. It’s a great day when we ride our bikes to visit the cows, chicken and sheep. However, I’m consistent about dropping a comment or two when we’re there that I expect them to go to a 4-year University. I expect more of them.
Expectations. They’re huge when shaping people, not just children, but specially children. Something I noticed when listening to interviews of kids who excel is that someone in their lives, if not everyone around them, expected more of them. The KIPP schools talk about setting high expectation for their students regardless of their dangerous neighborhoods and difficult circumstances. I’m trying to set expectations calmly, slowly, almost without my girls knowing it. They push against some limits and try to get off the path. It’s normal, expected. They are human. However, I don’t want to make the path mine. I want the goal to be theirs as well. I want them to take ownership of their direction. When I talk about college I don’t want it to be my vague notion. I want it to be their vision. And for them to have a vision, they must first see it for themselves. Which is why we recently stopped at UC Berkeley and Stanford on a trip to Northern California.
As I posted pictures on Facebook I knew people thought it was way too early for me to walk the campuses with a 3 and 7 year old. I’m sure many chalk it up to aggressive parenting but my motives were far from aggressive. I got to stroll the Berkeley campus without a bunch of goals and to-do lists for my girls. I have absolutely no stress at this point. I have 10 years to go! In fact, we leisurely walked through campus from our hotel to lunch at Chez Panisse. It doesn’t get much more delightful than that! I didn’t say much as we walked. I pointed out some buildings but for the most part they were taking it all in. They asked me a lot of questions, like:
Q:What are the boards for? A: People post activities and for sale or wanted ads but I think today a lot of that is done through social media.
Q: Do you have a class in every building every day? A: No. You have anywhere from 1-4 classes a day. The first two years the classes are kind of everywhere as you take your electives but the second two years most of your classes will take place in one or two buildings, those pertaining to your major. (I would have liked to have known this my freshman year!)
Q: Are those real science labs with real scientist? A: Yes, top schools are top research facilities.
Q: Are the dorms nice? A: If you’re a scholarship athlete they are!
And my favorite response was to that question. P said “I think I need to go do my ab workout for swimming tonight.” And that’s it! This is why I walk these campuses. I didn’t have to lecture her or try to explain how daily effort will bring a delayed reward. The walk through campus did that all on it’s own. The thought developed organically without me trying to drive the point home. Stress free and far from being aggressive.
We stayed across the street from the Berkeley campus at Hotel Durant. It gave us a peek into what it would be like to go to school there. It was fun for me. I played at Berkeley several times throughout my college years. However, my only experiences were at the tennis courts. I didn’t have the chance to see the gorgeous campus. The girls and I also experienced how close Berkeley is to San Francisco since we drove there every day. We experienced the diversity of culture in that part of the Bay Area.
On our way back to Los Angeles we stopped at Stanford. To be honest, it’s a dream for me if one of the girls goes there. But I must remind myself that it’s my dream not theirs. It may not be a fit for either one. I won’t even touch upon the difficulty of the application process!
As I think back over the weekend, the best part of these campus walks was the conversation I had with P after. She told me what she thought of each school. Where she preferred to go if she had to choose now. She mentioned things like how spread out one campus was vs the other. How diverse the ethnicities of the students were at one school vs the other. She commented about the architecture and her tastes and preferences. The things she said gave me amazing insight into who she is, who she is becoming and how she sees herself.
I now know P won’t set foot on a college campus and have culture shock. There’s a lot to learn in that first year away but at least some of the intimidating factors won’t be so new to her anymore. She now has a visual on what to expect and whats to come. She now knows what one of her biggest stepping stones looks like and the path there is starting to become hers. I’ve lifted one finger off the steering wheel. She will also be less prone to peer pressure. She’ll be going into college with more confidence because she is familiar with it. There will be more college campuses from now until she takes off. She will be very ready by then. And I must admit this is a long and slow transition for me to. As much as she needs to prepare to go I need to prepare to be left behind.