Chapter Nine, The Mother Son College Odyssey

8:45 AM: It’s morning in Connecticut. Eli’s taking a very long shower to wake himself up. While he’s been in the shower, I checked all my email and got caught up on Facebook.

Eli’s sitting in on a class this morning at Wesleyan called “Inside Nazi Germany: 1933-1945.” He chose it in lieu of some techy or mathematical thing. “I don’t just want to sit in on math classes,” he said. “I like history, too.”

His leaning so far is definitely a school with a strong math and science department in a liberal arts setting.

I’m happy we’re just going to one school today. We spend the whole day here and then drive to Providence tonight. Brown isn’t in session; they’re on spring break, so Eli can’t sit in on classes there and the info session isn’t until 2 PM tomorrow. All Friday morning to loll about and relax. We sure need that!

Last night, at midnight, I finally got to call home and get both Karyn and Lizzy on the phone. Calling from east coast to west is always tricky, time-wise. In the morning here, it’s too early. All day we’re busy and so are they, and in the evening, it’s usually too early. But last night we scored. It was good to hear about the mundane details of life back at home—Karyn’s yoga intensive, Lizzy’s jujitsu, what’s blooming in the garden, Easter plans. I can’t believe we’ve still got another week of this trip!

10:45 AM: I’ve been reading all the PR materials in the Wesleyan admissions office while Eli sits in on the Nazi history class. Driving here, the town and the college have the start of a real New England feeling. It’s a warm day, like back home. In the student union building, I was able to get a soy chai and a vegan sweet and sour tofu dish. When I went to heat it up, there were even biodegradable plates there to use in the microwave so I wouldn’t have to use plastic. Felt like Santa Cruz.

The student union building is full of things you’d expect in a liberal, liberal arts college—flyers for a million events, rallies and performances. The whole campus is wifi. Eli will like that.

I picked up a tuna sandwich and an orange juice for Eli. I know he’ll be really hungry when he gets out of that class.

Noon: Some schools are definitely more friendly and welcoming of interested students than others. Here, for instance, they really encourage you to sit in on classes. Other schools, like Dartmouth, don’t allow it. At Columbia, they advertise the possibility on their website, but didn’t it have it together to have a list of possible classes to sit in on.

Here at Wesleyan they also have a big loose-leaf binder with a one-sheet on each of the tour guides, including their email addresses, info about their hometown, why they chose Wesleyan, their extra-curricular activities, major, class schedules and tons of other info. They want you to contact them, to stay in touch with them. Reading the blurbs the students wrote, they all stress that this is a cooperative, not a competitive place. They talk about the breadth of things you can do and the balance they’re able to have in their lives. 60% of Wesleyans are involved in some kind of sport. Dance and theatre are big here. There’s a well known creative writing program. And on the tour, we saw an incredible phys ed complex, complete with Olympic pool, ice skating rink, huge work out room, an indoor track, tennis and basketball courts, a sauna and steam room. It was impressive.

2 PM: We’re sitting in  a large auditorium, waiting for the admissions talk to begin. Eli is leaving halfway through to go to a class called, “Topology: Point Set.” I have no idea what that is, but it’s some form of higher math that’s beyond calculus. Eli says its fun going to classes when he knows he doesn’t have to do the work. Right now, he’s sitting beside me, engrossed in the satirical college newspaper, The Wesleyan Inquigus, much like The Onion.

3:00 PM: What did I learn in today’s talk? There are 2700 undergrads and 200 grad students. The focus is on undergraduate education, but because of the graduate students, there are some great research opportunities, especially in the sciences. There is no core curriculum, but there is a distribution requirement. They expect everyone applying to have had four years of language. Eli has only had 3 with no intention of taking a 4th. He may have to rethink that decision.

The talk focused a lot on the career resource center and a center that helps arrange study abroad. “Students challenge themselves but aren’t competing with each other.” That came up again and again.

The diversity of what any one particular student could do at Wesleyan was also stressed, and I’m seeing that that appeals to Eli. And that less than 10% of students are in Greek life. There’s a ton of theatre and music and dance at Wesleyan. And hundreds of activities. The student rep put it this way, “My biggest problem at Wesleyan is being invited to too many events on Facebook every weekend.”

The admissions officer talked about what they look for in their candidates and gave some advice about admissions interviews—be engaging, be open to learning for the interviewer, mention things you love to do, but don’t wait until the last minute to toot your own horn. Eye contact matters. Don’t make the interviewer draw you out. Don’t rehearse it, make it a good conversation.

At Wesleyan, it’s also okay to submit artwork or some other demonstration of your talents. In Eli’s case, he’s decided to make a time-lapse video of him designing and making some kind of origami project and to send it in with the completed model. They’re looking for that unique thing that makes you stand out–I can’t imagine a more unique passion than folded paper and the design of folded paper using mathematical formulas.

I was yawning by the end of the talk. Frankly, they are all starting to sound the same.

3:15 PM: I walked back over the Admissions to wait for Eli. There was a book there written by a New York Times reporter who shadowed a Wesleyan financial aid officer for a year and wrote an in-depth account of the admissions process. I read as much of the book as I could in the hour I waited for Eli. It was fascinating—mostly how dramatically the admissions process has changed in the last fifty years, in the last twenty years, and again, in the last ten years. College admissions have become so much more competitive and at the same time, so much less elite. I learned how important the relationship is between the admissions department of the college and each individual high school. And I think Eli’s high school, Kirby, is barely known. Some PR is definitely needed.

4:00 PM: Eli’s back from his class. He loved the math and the teacher. “She didn’t just give us the proofs. She taught us why they proofs work.” Then he added, “I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about in the beginning of the class,” he said. “But I understood it by the end. She was really good.”

4:30: We stopped for some caffeine at the student union before getting back in the car for the drive to Rhode Island. The day had grown balmy and students were out in force, sitting on green hillsides in small clusters or with their laptops open. Wesleyan is definitely going to be on Eli’s list. He’s seeing the benefit of a liberal arts school—being able to pursue everything he’s interested in, not just a narrow focus.

10:30 PM: We got totally sucked into our Michael Crichton CD in the car. It’s gripping and tense and Eli loves the science. Frankly, I don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, but Eli is engaged and stops the CD regularly to tell me all about nanobots, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and other assorted bits of science. .

We checked into our motel around six; it’s an ugly dive that is aesthetically appalling, but otherwise clean and comfortable. The woman behind the counter directed us to a great place for dinner: Iggy’s Doughboys and Chowder House, a local beachfront institution that’s been written up in all the tour guides. I had fabulous fish and chips and Eli had a burger, onion rings and a root beer float made with Iggy’s homemade root beer. They guy working there gave us an Iggy’s bumper sticker and a free bag of hot doughboys (freshly made doughnuts dipped in powdered sugar—Lizzy, you would love them!). He told us about the flooding in other parts of town and we did see a bunch of water on the road and one whole trestle that was underwater.

Without having to discuss it, we got our food to go and went back to the car with our little paper cups of ketchup, some malt vinegar for my fish and chips and we ate our delicious (not greasy) fried food in the dark car, listening to more about the swarms of genetically mutating artificially intelligent nanobots that has escaped in the desert and had the potential to destroy the world.

The food was good, the story was suspenseful and we were having a great time together. What a treat this trip is! I feel so lucky to be having this time with Eli at such a pivotal time in his life.

We’ve been “home” now for a couple of hours. Eli’s on the computer with headphones now—just like at home. He needed the night off and luckily tomorrow, our tour at Brown isn’t until 2 in the afternoon. It’s nice to have a break in the pace of the trip.

11:30 PM: Eli looks down at his phone and then starts laughing: “Mom, when you text, don’t use letters. That’s so 7th grade girl. When you texted me today, you said, ‘C U.’”

Me: “I’m not supposed to do that? Really? I thought I was being hip.”

Eli: “No, Mom. You weren’t. Nobody my age does that.”

So glad I have a 17-year-old to set me straightl!

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