This is that time of year when high school seniors turn suitors – not of members of the opposite sex, but of the colleges of their choices. For most, this is no simple thing, for them or their parents. It is as passionate and complex as the search for the Holy Grail.
I spent little time choosing my college in the long ago. In the Air Force in the South Pacific as the war was winding down, my best buddy, Don Penland from Asheville, said, “Rebel, when we get home, we’re going to enroll at Mars Hill College.”
I agreed, although I’d never heard of the school. But in due time, I rode the bus to the small Baptist college 20 miles west of Asheville.
Penland was waiting there to break the news that since we had parted, he had fallen in love with a University of Tennessee coed and would be joining her there.
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After venting my anger, I decided I’d go home the next day. It took only 24 hours for me to fall in love with the place.
To paraphrase poet Robert Frost, I took the road I hadn’t planned to travel, and it made all the difference. Two years later, I transferred to Carolina.
When my two daughters reached college age, I told them they could choose any North Carolina school except Duke. Duke, back then, was for the “got rocks” kids, not newspaper reporters’ offspring.
Carolina was their destination of choice. The younger found it to be the “Southern Part of Heaven” that she envisioned.
The older was less comfortable at Chapel Hill. Not long into the semester, she’d return to her dorm from studying at the library to find her door locked and her toiletries in a paper bag sitting outside the door. Her roomie was entertaining a boyfriend, forcing my daughter to go up and down the hall seeking a friendly spot to sleep. Her complaints failed to solve the problem.
Also, the very bigness of the university was not to her liking. In time, we took her on a visit to Mars Hill College.
She loved the beautiful campus, the dedicated teachers and the personal attention from the faculty, not to mention awakening each morning to the sound of a rooster crowing on a nearby farm.
In a call home she once said, “At Carolina, if you don’t go to class, nobody cares. At Mars Hill, if you’re not there, a faculty member may show up at your door with a bowl of hot chicken soup.”
My Florida granddaughter and her mother are caught up now in the nationwide search for just the right place for my very discriminating grand. Among her criteria: a campus with old buildings, a non-preppy school without sororities or fraternities and one with a strong writing program.
During one interview, she was directed to argue the negative side in a debate on whether college is actually worth the time and expense.
At another college, she sat in the chair Abraham Lincoln sat in before the Lincoln-Douglass debate.
Raleigh’s Bruce Ham, who writes an interesting blog, “The Real Full House,” is also in the process of steering his daughter Bailey toward the college of her choice. He writes:
“So far in our quest we have:
• Taken the SAT twice
• Taken one prep course for the SAT
• Taken the ACT twice
• Visited 11 institutions
• Completed the common app (which most colleges don’t take)
• Had 17 arguments.”
Like many parents, Bruce worries that his daughter may choose a school for the wrong reason. After touring the University of South Carolina, he asked BJ what she thought.
“The tour guide was real HOT!” she replied.
“All of this work, and she may make her choice based on Biff’s biceps, “ Bruce complained. “Heck, the local community college has hot guys. Think we’ll go there next week.”
In my Nov. 2 column, Dr. Assad Meymandi was incorrectly identified as a retired Raleigh psychiatrist. Meymandi still maintains an active practice and is also an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.
Snow: 919-836-5636 or firstname.lastname@example.org