How My Daughter Found the Right College

College was never a question for my husband or me when we were growing up. It was assumed in both of our families that we would go to college, and fortunately, both of us fulfilled this expectation – with my husband going on to get his MBA. When our children were very young we began talking to them about college in much the same way. Not only did we expect them to go to college, but we encouraged them to go far enough away from home that it wouldn’t be easy to come back and get their laundry done or have a home-cooked meal on the weekends.

Of course, we were overly-eager about the college process with our oldest child, taking her to see schools in whatever city we happened to be visiting, starting when she was in middle school – Berkeley, Washington DC, San Diego, New York City, and one cold winter break, Boston. Our son, 2 years younger, came along too. We bought SAT and ACT study books when she was starting her sophomore year in high school, anxious to get her started on her standardized test preparation as soon as possible. We helped her plot out her academic path with precision and care, debating the merits of AP classes and choosing a schedule that would challenge her, yet allow her to excel. We encouraged her participation in extracurricular activities, not just because it would look good on her applications, but because it made her happy to be part of the show choir and student government.

During her senior year, after her applications had been submitted, we took her to visit some of the schools she had applied to. She toured the University of Southern California, Miami University of Ohio (her father’s alma mater), Indiana University, University of Maryland, and the University of Michigan. Her grades and ACT scores put her in a gray area – not quite good enough to be certain of any top tier schools, but far too good to be concerned that she would only have safety schools to choose from. As the earliest acceptance letters began to arrive – Indiana was first, then the University of Connecticut, then San Diego State University (my alma mater) Honors Program, then UC Irvine – it became clear that she would be Indiana bound in the fall of 2008 unless one of her top picks came through. We knew USC was a long shot, especially since there were a number of students in her high school class who not only were academically qualified but had parents on the faculty. Michigan also was a big reach for her. We knew UCLA and Berkeley were sure to be declines, with nearly 60,000 applicants at each school. Boston University’s School of Communications was notoriously hard to get into, so we weren’t holding our breath for that, either.

All along her top choice had been USC, where her father had gotten his MBA. She had grown up cheering on the Trojan football team alongside him. Though it was where she believed she would be happiest, the rejection letter from USC is one of the best things that ever happened to her. Had she been admitted there, she would have lived just 45 minutes from home, and would have gone to school with many people who grew up in Southern California – both of which, as far as her father and I were concerned, would have been less than ideal.

My daughter was thrilled to be accepted to the Boston University College of Communications, which was the perfect place for her. By going to school across the country she was able to develop a sense of independence that, in her case, I believe she never would have if she had attended school close to home. Though she thought she would miss rooting for a football team, she found a passion for the Boston Unversity Terriers hockey team to take its place – and could continue to root for USC without any feeling of disloyalty. She loved living in Boston, a city filled with college students, culture, great restaurants and an environment completely different from Southern California, where she returned after graduation. She found her passion – public relations – and had the opportunity to do internships and take classes that ultimately led her to a career that she absolutely loves.

We never guessed, that snowy December day when she was a high school sophomore, as we walked on Commonwealth Avenue and took in the urban campus of BU, that she would someday be a student there. It’s said that everyone winds up at the school where they belong, and though I’m not sure that’s always true, for my daughter it definitely was the case.

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  • Love this post! My daughter also found her perfect match on the opposite coast (Pitzer College). USC was her top choice, and her rejection letter from them was the nadir of her application process. Now she says, “Thank God I didn’t get into USC, because I would have gone there and never known how perfect Pitzer is).

    Our stories are very similar. Her father also graduated from Miami of Ohio.

    • Sharon Greenthal

      That’s so great! And Pitzer is an amazing school. Congrats to your daughter for finding the right place.

  • Sharon, your daughter’s story along the college admission route unfolds in such a realistic way that I hope other parents of high school students have a chance to read this. It is a discovery for kids and keeping an open mind from the very beginning is vital. Sounds like you and your husband provided the support and encouragement to help her all along the way. So glad that BU was her choice and that it was such a perfect fit. Yes, no way to know in advance how the college decision will sort itself out until it does!

  • Love this!!! and it is something I need to keep in mind as my baby boy approaches his senior year of high school

  • I think bringing your younger son on the college trips is a good idea. The size of the school, the environment, the other kids it all has to fit.

  • Congratulations to your daughter. Boston is a wonderful city in which to spend your college years! My daughter had a similar experience, focusing her sights on one school, being declined and ultimately ending up exactly where she should be – in Washington DC, another great place to attend college!

  • You know I went to BC so I know BU very well and it’s a marvelous school You certainly get the feel of Boston going there. Good for your daughter!

  • I love this story. My dream was always to go to BU. I wanted to be a journalist/writer but circumstances changed and that dream was no longer possible. I applaud the fact that you realized she needed to get further away to become independent. My son was the same way but he wanted the military something he decided in the 7th grade during 9/11 and something he never waivered. He’s been all over the world, climbed mountains and had experiences. I knew like him that my daughter would need more security so she went to college close to home but got married instead. Thank goodness we had prepared for her to go. If her and her husband had to add tuition with everything else she wouldn’t have had the opportunities she has had. It’s so important.

  • Joy

    Always a good idea to visit schools on weekends. Some have a totally different atmosphere then during the week when classes are going on.

  • I love how involved and prepared you were in the college process. Many parents want to keep their children home and within reach; never letting them experience their own life. Kuddos to you for not guilting them into staying in your backyard.

  • So wonderful that your daughter found the right place for her. And look at her now!

  • We are going through this process with my son right now. He is a sophomore and wants to figure out which college is right for him. After going on a few tours already, this gives me hope.

  • chris

    When we were doing the college search, I told my kids “listen to your gut, sometimes it just feels right”.

    Our oldest applied and was accepted to a college in Buffalo ANY, about 8 hours from home. Didn’t step foot on the campus until accepted student day.

    He’s reaction: “feels like home”. He spent 4 very happy years there, and just had his 5 year reunion.

    All of the others were given the same advice, and everyone ended up at a school that was perfect for them.

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