Getting Into College: Success Stories

Just thinking about what it takes to get into college today can be exhausting.  High school kids are supposed to take challenging classes, study for the dreaded SAT/ACT, round up teacher recommendation, complete applications, nag their parents to fill out financial aid forms ….it never seems to end.

But today was a triumph for the two seniors who ride in my son’s carpool. After a two-week spring break, it was my turn to drive and I was eager to grill Danielle and Madison about where they had decided to attend school in the fall.

Both were happy, happy, happy campers.

University of California, Davis

Danielle is heading to the UC Davis, which had been her dream school all along. She wants to be a veterinarian and the school is known nationally for its veterinary program. Danielle also got accepted at UCLA and UC Berkeley, but while it was tempting to pick one of these glamor schools, she stuck with what felt like the best academic fit.  And that’s exactly how teenagers should pick schools. Everyone in the car cheered her decision.

Beloit College

As he slid into the back seat, Madison, a cerebral kind of kid, was more animated than I’d ever seen him.  He had just flown back on Monday night after attending the accepted-student shingdig at Beloit College in Wisconsin. He loved the students he met. He thought the class he sat in on was incredible. I think it had something to do with Chinese philosophy with some kind of twist. He was impressed with the professors he met and the sense of community that was palpable.

As Madison was talking, my son Ben, who is a junior, turned to me and said, “Gee mom, you are soooo smart.”

Ben was being sarcastic, but I didn’t mind. You see, I have been trying to spread the word about the joys of liberal arts colleges out here in San Diego and it’s a tough sell. Roughly 84% of California kids attend state universities and colleges and the thought of picking a college outside of the state, much less a little school in the hinterlands isn’t something that most So Cal kids would ever consider.

A year ago, Madison thought he’d be attending San Francisco State. I urged him to consider Beloit and some other schools that I thought would be a match. Ultimately, Beloit gave Madison a $100,000 scholarship, flew him to the campus to woo him and now Madison is practically giddy with delight. Late today, Beloit emailed Madison and gave him this cheery news:  The school was adding another $40,000 in need-based aid to the package. Sweet!

I wish I could have more bumper-to-bumper traffic experiences like today’s.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution and she also writes a college blog for CBSMoneyWatch.com.