How much emphasis should D put on "politics"

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: How much emphasis should D put on "politics"
By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Monday, August 30, 2004 - 11:50 pm: Edit

I am using the kid's name as mine is down, for some reason. D has several odd choices on her latest "list". While all share relatively the same academic standing ,size, and size of the surrounding community (all small or really rural),they are basically polar opposites politically and most probably socially.

She has Grinnell, Carleton, Kenyon and (possibly) Oberlin and Bard with Hendrix as a safety AND , amazingly, the same kid has Davidson, Wash and Lee, Rose Hulman and Furman, with Ole Miss Barskdale Honors College as a safety ( she loves it).

Should I have her examined by a competent mental health professional? When, I point it out to her she says "I am the only sorta liberal at my High School , what's the big deal"? Maybe I put too much emphasis on this. I was a 10%er at my larger conservative baptist school (the 10% who didn't toe the line) and it never really bothered me either but 10% of 10,000 is different than 10% of 1400.

What do you think? She has visited about half but has done zero overnights.

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 12:06 am: Edit

What does she like to "wear"? (seriously -- the outward manifestations can sometimes be the tip-off of where one might be comfortable and where not. My d., ultra-liberal, kept on looking for an occasional nose ring (she doesn't have any herself, and doesn't plan on it) or dreads (she doesn't have those either) or pink hair (I'd probaby dye mine before she would), or goth jewelry (none of that either) at Williams, and after we starting counting and didn't get past 10, she concluded the place just wasn't diverse enough for her. She found all the students well-spoken, well-schooled, usually well-healed, and...lacking. (She did then spend an overnight, and found her conclusions confirmed.) She just wanted something "edgier" and less "J.Crew-conscious" (and since she had experienced it elsewhere, knew that it was possible to find.)

This is not a knock on Williams or anywhere else - it's just a matter of knowing that different students will have different comfort zones. She should definitely overnight. (Bard and Washington & Lee on the same list makes me giggle.)

By Soozievt (Soozievt) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 12:16 am: Edit

Mini, I really think your daughter has found the perfect college for her in many respects.

I laughed at the nose ring comment cause at Smith, it was more usual to find way MORE than ONE piercing on ONE person. Surely a different "scene" than she encountered at Williams.


By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 03:44 am: Edit

I guess the clothes thing would help but all it tells me is she plays sports. Every day it is the same. Athletic shorts and a "women in sports" themed t-shirt. Off-duty it's just typical kid stuff-low rise jeans and a shirt that would have been too small for her in the 5th grade. She has 2 close friends . One dresses punk with a nose ring (just one) while the other dresses "Seventeen".

Hmmmm, maybe psychiatric care is not such a farfetched idea.

Yea, the "possible" Bard and Oberlin thing was an attempt at saying she does see some limits on her choices. The fact you don't see southern mainstay Sewanee on there is another. She seems more willing to drift left than right.

By Momrath (Momrath) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:36 am: Edit

There's a strong thread of American homogeneity that runs through all of these schools. Some lean more to the right, some to the left (though the faculty of all are decidedly more left than right). For the most part they are full of nice, smart middleclass kids, many of whom will experiment with radical politics among other forbidden fruits.

I wouldn't put too much weight on the fashion choices of the students. Fashion is just that: an external posture. Some of the most politically minded kids I know just don't care about clothes and therefore could be perceived as being preppy. A polo shirt and pair of khakis is actually less of a uniform (e.g., less effort) than piercings and leather.

By Backhandgrip (Backhandgrip) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 07:45 am: Edit

Interesting about the clothing.If someone is looking for students with nose rings, punk hair and dreadlocks a large urban university with a strong arts department is their place.I mean, the folks I knew who went to Williams wanted to be museum curators.Just from what I have seen of the friends of my 4 children who attend a large, good suburban public school, those who took the radical look were either art or dance majors, or took an alternative look as a coping factor- like their grades were poor, so this was how they defined themselves.

You don't have to look weird to be a bright new or radical thinker.

By Garland (Garland) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 08:15 am: Edit

At my D's first school, she noticed the lack of punk clothes, nose rings etc. She didn't have those either, but also didn't dress J.Crew/Abercrombie. The rest of the school did, however, and this difference reflected her overall feeling of not fitting in there.

She transfered to one of the premier nose ring/dyed hair schools, still had neither, but felt much more at home there. So I echo Mini's thesis; it worked in her case.

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 09:33 am: Edit

please delete

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 09:46 am: Edit

Sounds like your D is the type of kid who is comfortable around different kinds of people with different viewpoints, which is a great character trait to have. At that age, too many kids are concerned with finding others "like them," and your D sounds like she doesn't necessarily follow the crowd, but will make her own decisions. Good for her! I like the approach of applying to a range of schools (all of which she likes, right) -- see where she gets in, then make a decision!

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 10:14 am: Edit

D has concrete and sometimes indefinable traits she wants in schools. Her friends have one thing in common only-they are all hard workers. She does not suffer slackers gladly ( ot at all really). She was interviewed by a local newspaper in the 8th grade and responded to the q-"what ticks you off?" with "people who don't try their hardest".

I guess that I agree with the poster about her eclectic choice in friends showing she's comfortable around "different" people, but I also agree with the posters who say the surface appearance of the students doesn't say that much about who they are.

I think my concerns are more about the posssibility of almost "institutionally" proscribed political correctness or conservatism.

On a thread about Wash and Lee someone described a process whereby every student came out walking, talking, and looking the same. I seriously doubt that would happen to her. On an Oberlin thread I read where at least one poster felt there are no conservative thoughts expressed for fear of reprisal or castigation , as in "don't go there if you are a meat-eating, heterosexual Republican".

This does concern me. Is it something the rest of you consider?

By Emptynester (Emptynester) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 10:43 am: Edit

"I think my concerns are more about the posssibility of almost "institutionally" proscribed political correctness or conservatism...This does concern me. Is it something the rest of you consider? "

Yes I considered it and would have preferred the most politically correct institutions possible. Son's concern was that this type of envirnoment was too limiting. His final pick, where he is very comfortable and happy, is a university with a fairly diverse student body, left leaning but still some young Republicans. He thinks it large enough that anyone can find a happy spot to land; this was a concern he had with LAC's. Do you think your daughter might be more comfortable with a larger setting? Good luck!

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 10:47 am: Edit

I agree with Emptynester about the better odds of finding more diversity (political and otherwise) at larger schools. Certainly Oberlin, on the OP's D's list, is known for left-wing uniformity (and has been for years -- I know a very liberal woman in her 30's who went there, and said her biggest complaint was that EVERYONE was so liberal that there was no opportunity for interesting debates!). The lack of more different types of students was the main reason my D was also rather anti-LAC.

By Cangel (Cangel) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 10:58 am: Edit

Oh yes, Oh yes - we have Swarthmore and Davidson running neck and neck. What I honestly think (Lord, I hope she doesn't read this) is that "that political stuff" doesn't really mean a lot to her one way or the other, and that those concrete, but undefinable traits (DD has those too, it's maddening) will be apparent on overnight visits. Basically, she will visit and either love the school or hate the school, and there will be no rhyme or reason because there just isn't any. What all her schools and your daughter's list shares is academic rigor and rather small size - that's the truly important thing to them (they think).

What worries me about my conservatively brought up, only "liberal" in my school kid is unfair grading/assessment because her political-social beliefs are out of the mainstream for some of these schools. My only answer to that is life isn't fair, and stay in science/ classics and languages, they are more objective.

While I personally find much of what I've heard that goes on today's campuses to be tasteless and silly - they are college kids. This may be the 21st cenury version of swallowing goldfish or wearing love beads.

I read your middle post, DD wouldn't even look at Swanee either, I'm not sure why, but maybe it is a desire to dabble in those liberal hippie Yankee schools!

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 11:20 am: Edit

Schools may be lacking in diversity, but it isn't necessarily political diversity. The demographics at, say Washington and Lee and Williams are virtually the same - so geography and campus culture account for most of it. At both schools, some 60% of the student population comes from a tiny sliver of the general population economically speaking (the top 5% or so) - they have to come from there to be able to afford $168k over four years without any financial assistance. A tiny sliver, under 10% at both schools, comes from the bottom 35% of the U.S. population. The rest, under 30% of the student body, comes from the remaining 60% of the population, broadly speaking, the middle class. This extreme lack of diversity (even when there is variety in political opinion) manifests itself in dress, speech, mannerisms, and, broadly speaking, culture -- summer vacations, trips to Europe, automobiles, summer jobs and campus jobs, sports and hobbies.

This is no knock on future museum curators! The world needs good ones! But you're not likely to find them coming from bottom 20% of the U.S. population. (you may find an occasional one, but it will be very rare.)

So a hypothesis? The prevailing politics at Washington and Lee and at Williams may be very different. But I'll bet the clothing styles and automobiles driven are very, very similar. (Please note: I've never visited W & L.)

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 11:28 am: Edit

>>This extreme lack of diversity (even when there is variety in political opinion) manifests itself in dress, speech, mannerisms, and, broadly speaking, culture -- summer vacations, trips to Europe, automobiles, summer jobs and campus jobs, sports and hobbies.>>

I have encountered students of different economic background. In my part of the country, however, the dominance of kids from urban and suburban backgrounds makes for a limited understanding of how rural folks life the world over, including in the USA. Talk about not knowing one end of a cow from another: that's the kind of young people (not excluding my own) that I see on a regular basis.

By Mini (Mini) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 11:36 am: Edit

I find many don't understand how the urban folks live either. I mean the average San Francisco family lives on $40k a year (and we know what housing prices are like.) My sense is that many kids -- even from the same town -- bound for the snooty places haven't a clue. This is why I think economic diversity in the student body is so important to educational quality. Some schools figured that out a while ago, some (like Harvard) are now playing catch-up, and some just don't get it as part of their educational mission.

Funny - in the 19th Century, many of the colleges DID get it. Amherst was founded specifically to educate poor kids of upright character (richer ones were only to be accepted to subsidize the poor ones.) Smith also saw the education of poor women as core to its mission. Oberlin the same - though they specifically sought to educate ministers for the midwest. And they accepted women early for explicit purpose of having them do the laundry for the young men (really! no joke.)

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 11:49 am: Edit

I've been around Harvard for nearly 40 years, one way or the other, and I have noticed a lot of change in the socio-economic make up of the student body. Whether or not they come from a poor urban background, they do have the opportunity to do do community service in low-income areas, and some do. Geography, however, is another story. Recently, I asked a group of 30 or so Harvard students how many came from a farm background. Answer: one.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 12:48 pm: Edit

>> Oh yes - we have Swarthmore and Davidson running neck and neck.


As you know, both Davidson and Swarthmore were very high on my daughter's list, and for good reason. In terms of size and traditional rigorous approach to academics, these two colleges are nearly identical. They are considered to be two of the most challenging schools in the United States; both pride themselves on heavy academic workload and no grade inflation.

We discussed "politics" and "culture" at these two schools extensively. Keep in mind that my wife is a card-carrying Cambridge liberal. I'm far more centrist, perhaps best described as a DLC Democrat or a Rockefeller Republican (if there we such a thing). I despise "political correctness"; my wife thinks anyone who doesn't share her views is a "racist" or a "bigot". Because me daughter has grown up with fairly active political debate, she is saavy to the excesses of political dogma and tends to be rather independent and centrist.

With that background out of the way, I don't think politics played much of any role in her thinking about colleges and certainly not in her consideration of Swarthmore or Davidson. Traditional partisan politics just doesn't play that much of a role in campus life. My wife thought Davidson might be too "conservative" and I thought Swarthmore might be too "liberal", but neither of us saw that a big deal, either way.

What did emerge as a "tip" factor was a rather striking difference in culture at the two schools. My wife picked up on it first, not so much from our campus visit, but from going to the alumni/recruiting functions in the Boston area with my daughter. I actually poo-poo'd her at first, but came to realize that the difference IS striking.

Two issues convinced me. First, the difference in diversity is stunning. Now, I am not a fan of racial preference affirmative action, but even I can see that Davidson is one of the most "lily-white" schools in the United States -- 86% white to be exact. That is strikingly different that Swarthmore, which is one of the most diverse colleges on the East Coast (only 63% white), despite maintaining very, very high admissions standards. As the parent of a white student, I realize that this diversity makes admissions harder; but, I think it does add real value to the sum total of the college experience for ALL of the students.

The African American percentage is similar (7% at Swat, 6% at Davidson), although Davidson's location SHOULD result in a higher percentage based on the population base, IMO. But, the other numbers at Davidson (2% Asian, 3% Hispanic, and 3% International) are very low. O honestly don't know how a school with Davidson's SATs could hold Asian enrollment to 2% without trying. By contrast, nearby UNC-Chapel Hill is 11% black and 6% Asian and "only" 79% white. As much as I resisted the conclusion, the numbers finally forced me to admit that either Davidson doesn't want much diversity or their efforts to achieve it aren't working.

The second issue is the dominant fraternity scene at Davidson. 41% of the male students are frat boys -- again a very, very high percentage. Swarthmore is one of the few northeast LACs that still has frats at all -- but their two non-residential frats are viewed mostly as ironic "jokes" -- humorous in much the same way that going to a retro store and buying 50's clothing would be humorous. 6% of the male students belong (about 42 guys). Basicially, the two frats rent lodges from the campus and alternate hosting the weekly all-campus pub night party and that's about it. Although my daughter has no personal interest in sororities or frats, she is not opposed to having a moderate Greek scene on campus. However, when it reaches the point of dominating the social scene, it becomes an issue.

As for the whole "clothing as an indicator" discussion, I did not visit Davidson when students were around, so I have no idea. From my two visits to Swat (and perhaps drop-off day is atypcial), there seem to be very few "statements" being made. I don't remember seeing any standard preppie garb (kakhis and polo) or studied "goth" looks. Seems like to me that everybody just wears a pair of jeans or a jeans skirt or a pair of baggy shorts and a t-shirt. I don't get the impression that it is a place where people are trying hard to be "different" or make a "statement" as you might see at some of the more consciously "liberal" schools.

As you can see, none of these are "political" issues. I view them more as differences in campus culture, tradition, and style. There is one other striking difference: Swarthmore has a $900+ million endowment versus $200+ million at Davidson. At a liberal arts college, endowment translates directly into per student spending and resources. That money is easy to see in the campus, in the highest prof. pay scales of any LAC in the US, in a paid semester leave for every six semesters taught, and in things like the Writing Associates program where 70 students can earn $600 a semester to serve as writing mentors for any Swarthmore student on any paper after taking a special semester long course on writing mentoring.

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:23 pm: Edit

Well, at least i am not alone with my d of two minds. At this moment her top two juxtaposed schools are Furman on the right and Grinnell on the left. Both are 2 days drive away. Both are highly ranked. I think Furman went up several points in USNEWS (as if that made a whit of difference to D ) and Grinnell is a top 15 year in , year out.

Barksdale at Ole Miss is doing wonderful things with the Netscape money (it's amazing what a hundred million can do) so it is not only her top safety, but possibly her favorite school. The Dean is wonderful, D sat in on a few classes and the student body at Barksdale is a truly mixed bag whose stats are (almost) on par with the LAC's above (1380 SAT,3.6 or 3.8 UW) and the price without scholarship is doable for a middle class family. The negative, way too many Mississippi kids are represented in Barksdale while the undergrad is an acceptable 30% out of state. That is a real problem point for D . I don't know if she will get around it.

Grinnell is next for a visit and on paper it "is" her . It has the added possibility of her being able to continue playing basketball which she dearly loves. At the D1 level she will be playing intramurals. Bad gene pool. I have great hopes that Grinnell stays on the list as it satisfies Dad's desires far better than the others but as I have learned , I'm just a passenger on this bus. Thanks for the thoughtful responses.

By Willywonka (Willywonka) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:39 pm: Edit

Hm...this thread has me flip-flopping. I've never put much weight on a school's political atmosphere, and so my list of schools is very diverse in that area, much like the OP's daughter's. Dartmouth, Swarthmore, Washington and Lee, Kenyon. I'm thinking maybe I haven't given it enough consideration, but then again I know that I've always known these schools are very different politically, and have previously reconciled it in my mind by saying that I'm pretty centrist myself, and nothing anyone can say about politics would really "rock my boat." I mean that in two ways; 1. It wouldn't upset me to live with a small student body that was heavily right or left and 2. I wouldn't be overlyinfluenced just by living with these people. I would consider their opinions just like everyone else's I've encountered, no matter how concentrated they are on campus.

Still, I don't share in the "summer vacation" culture that W&L students would, but as I've heard from current students in my place (politically and economically) that it creates no problems, I'm still unphased.

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:41 pm: Edit

Oh, and to add to the discussion on rural /city diversity, my daughter lives on a ranch where she is the primary care giver to a herd of goats, sheep, and two species of deer some of which she bottle raised from birth, in her bedroom. There are exactly 13 families living within the surrounding 11,000 acres and D's drive to the front entrance of the ranch is @ 1 mile. She cannot see another man-made structure from our front porch. It is fairly common for her to "ride the fence". Does that qualify as rural?

On a more serious note, is that background , that "diversity", something she should make admissions aware of if these schools truly don't have anybody like her? In what way would it be most effective to bring it out? I've always half-jokingly suggested she check the "other" blank on ethnicity and write in the blank provided- "hillbilly".

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:47 pm: Edit

Willywonka-are you my kid? You sound EXACTLY like her. I mean spooky, scary exactly. Shouldn't you be in calculus right now? LOL.

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 01:52 pm: Edit

Don't know about the schools your D is interested in, but in NE LACs and Ivies, her background would certainly stand out! She certainly could write her essay about it.

By Cangel (Cangel) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 02:08 pm: Edit

You know with that background I would think a more pressing issue than politics for her "fit" would be location of school. She may want rural/small town, or may want to try a city (Swarthmore is technically suburban, but has definite big city access). She will miss her wide open spaces, what an adventure! My daughter, your daughter and Willywonka could start a new club, she needs to look at Dartmouth!

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 02:14 pm: Edit

Cangel, as you might have guessed Dartmouth is her super reach . At my house we call it a flyer, as in "then you can take a flyer at a couple of schools you probably can't get into and I can't possibly pay for".

And you were again right on target with your "wide open spaces" line. Believe it or not , Davidson got dinged for being too closed in feeling. Sheesh.

By Fendergirl (Fendergirl) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 02:41 pm: Edit

honestly, i think if you choose a college based on what the other kids are wearing.. you definately aren't choosing the college for the right reasons. Who cares if youre the only person with pink hair? who cares if you want to dress like a prep? i certainly don't.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 02:49 pm: Edit

>> I've never put much weight on a school's political atmosphere, and so my list of schools is very diverse in that area, much like the OP's daughter's. Dartmouth, Swarthmore, Washington and Lee, Kenyon.


I would emphasize again that "politics" are not the important issue. Unless you are just obnoxious about it, I can't think of very many schools where your political views would not be respected.

The important issue is "culture" because you've got to live there for four years and it really helps if you don't feel like a fish out of water.

For example, I've mentioned that we made a habit of reading the guidebook descriptions aloud as we drove up to each college on our tour. As we approached Washington and Lee, one of the guidebooks described it as:

"The last bastion of the southern gentleman, men who can hold their liquor and are damn proud of it!"

It all came flooding back to me, memories of a Georgia prep school classmate who went to W&L. The kid was born wearing an Izod shirt and Bass Weejun penny loafers and he WAS damn proud of his ability to hold his liquor.

So we go to the data:

W&L is 88% white (I bet there are Klan meetings that aren't 88% white!)

W&L is 2% Jewish.

75% of the W&L men join fraternities.

70% of the W&L women join sororities.

W&L claims to have the highest percentage of freshman rush fraternities and sororities OF ANY COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY IN THE UNITED STATES! Bascially, the only people at W&L who don't joing frats/sororities are the campus "weirdos" that couldn't get invited.

Only 29% of the students qualify for ANY finanical aid, a number that is just astonishingly low given the $35,000 a year price tag. This may also be among the lowest in the United States.

Now, none of this is "politics", but I guarantee it has a huge impact on the day-to-day life you will experience for four years. It doesn't take a genious to figure out that this is probably the single most Southern preppie school in the world.

I looked at my New Englander yankee, non-drinking, non-preppie, non-sorority, non make-up wearing (except for special occasions) daughter and said, "Kiddo, this is a beautiful campus with solid academics, but you cannot begin to imagine how miserable you would be here..." I actually believe it would be a cruel environment for her.

Now, conversely, many of these kids would be miserable beyond belief and potentially ridiculed at Wesleyan or Bard, so it's a two-way street.

Most schools fall somewhere in the broad middle. But, you really do need to pay attention to some of these indicators in order to identify schools at the extremes.

By Cangel (Cangel) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 02:50 pm: Edit

Whoa, they are the same kids. Ole Miss falls into the "too close to home" category.
I was raised in a rural home, though not quite as rural as you describe, and the "living in town" aspect of going to college was an adjustment, I was just not accustomed to having so many people around all the time, and I missed walking through woods and fields (I sound like a Jane Austen novel).
I do think her diversity will be some degree of hook, I would guess that she has geographic diversity as well as upbringing, there should be an essay there somewhere.
I thought Davidson was a little cramped and manicured, DD called it "homey", the fire in the student union was burning the day we were there, that kind of chill is a rarity for us.

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 03:38 pm: Edit

I guess I agree with interesteddad in as much as I don't think "politics" as such is as important as the politicizing of "lifestyle" . Before anyone else says it I know that there are just as many conservative pot smokers as liberal ones. Got it.

The point remains that my D has presently no interest in taking part in the extremes of either lifestyle. Neither the potsmoking, Sartre quoting , dreadlock wearing vegetarians with multiple body piercings, nor the bourbon swilling, Cole-Haan wearing, woulda had a redneck but "diddy always had somebody drive the tractor for us", Aspen vacationing ,Milton Friedman cultists that seem to us uninitiated folk to form the majority at some of these schools interest her. The point is..... they don't scare her away either.

Dad is the one stewing about this. I just want to make sure that she can be herself, whatever she finds that self to be, and for her not be ostracized if that newly found self doesn't agree with the prevailing thought , fashion, or politic , whether left or right.

By Mom101 (Mom101) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 04:13 pm: Edit

I went from a super liberal home to Dartmouth in the late 70s. I didn't know enough at the time to analyze campus politics in choosing a college. Dumb luck, but it worked out very well. It opened my mind in ways that might have never happened had I followed my parent's (and I then thought were mine as well) politics to college. I tried to figure out why I was so popular there and came to realize my non preppy clothes and attitudes were of great appeal to the masses there. And even at ultra conservative Dartmouth, there were many loud liberal voices that were shaping change at the college. Maybe stepping outside of your box should be a part of a college experience. Success in the real world can be very much helped by broader understanding of this kind.

By Cangel (Cangel) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 04:26 pm: Edit

I'm sorry, multiple s - we have a few potsmoking, but no Sartre quoting dreadlocked folks at DD's high school, but we are well endowed with the Cole-Haan (actually Guy Harvey shirt wearing) bourbon swillers at her school. Nobody drives the tractor for them, if it's only on weekends it still qualifies as fun. The Guy Harvey crowd tend to have bay houses and "huntin" camps.

I share your concerns, particularly because these schools are relatively small, if the personality is not a good fit or the self she becomes, as you said, isn't the prevailing culture; it will be hard to escape the prevailing culture.
I've just reached the conclusion that we have to trust their resilience and good sense. Academically, any of these schools will be challenging. If they make a less than perfect decision socially, this will be a learning experience as the first adult decision (to the tune of 40K/year) they've made, I don't think academics will suffer.
Interestteddad is right, my daughter may identify with the W&L student body, she's just tired of them, she's gone to high school with them. Davidson is a LITTLE more aahhh, eclectic. At the same time, she might get tired of being the lone Republican at Wesleyan, so we eliminated those two. She kept Davidson because location, available sailing, and non-sorority sororities appealed to her. She kept Swarthmore because she is on the verge of being a truly intellectual kid who could thrive in that atmosphere, and she's quirky.
This is going to be such a rollercoaster!

By Backhandgrip (Backhandgrip) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 04:31 pm: Edit

This is a very interesting debate!Mini; I always enjoy your facts.Interestedad, Cangel, you comments too!And all others!
One thing not mentioned is that growing up in a tolerant school (public) has a do with how kids accept diversity.
What stikes me is the private schoolchildren who from an early age wear uniforms, attend the 'right' extracuriculars (ballet class, etc.)with the 'right' people. These are the folks who may have an askewed concept of diversity when the reach college or after.And who is to blame someone for seeking out their own?
And this goes for colleges as well. Certain colleges have long traditions, the president ,the alumni depend upon a certain type of student. Now why would a school like Haverford not have individual interviews for prospective students if this was not so? Same for Cal Tech, they are looking for the 'right 'student for them, it goes both ways, student looking for fit and college too.

By Willywonka (Willywonka) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 04:58 pm: Edit

InterestedD, I did know those statistics, but in the perspective of the Klan meeting humor, it was a little eye-opening. At the same time, I'm still just not intimidated by it, culturally or politically. I think I probably should be, and I probably would be had everyone on campus not been so friendly and warm when we visited. At the same time, the "southern gentleman" lifestyle described sounds fun to me, and so does the quirky intellectual lifestyle at Swarthmore and Kenyon. Dartmouth is kind of like a mix of all of it.

I don't know. Seems to me like it's time I did some overnights, though.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 05:28 pm: Edit

>> the same time, the "southern gentleman" lifestyle described sounds fun to me,

Southern gentlemen (and especially southern belles!) can be absolutely charming people. However, my daughter can never be a southern belle -- at best she could be a yankee-transplant faux belle (not a really appealing goal).

And, the ultimate wealthy southern preppie college wasn't my daughter's preference. Having grown up in a small, lily-white New England town, she really wants college to be an opportunity to expand her horizons and meet a broader cross-section of people. Thus, diversity (geographic, ethnic, cultural) was an important criteria.

Additionally, I think you have to be very wary of a small liberal arts college where you do not feel comfortable with the prevailing culture. Your circle of potential friends can get real small, real fast.

By Texdad (Texdad) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 05:44 pm: Edit

Echoing mom 101. It depends on what she wants. I went to a right wing night law school and I am at least as left as the misguided Ralph Nader. I flaunted my politics, and the relatively few liberals at the school sought me out. I met most of the people I wanted to meet and the right wingers (now this is Texas) were nice enough to me, too. I had a great time. I was in my early 30's when I did this, so it might not be appropriate for some 18 year olds.

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 06:01 pm: Edit

I agree with Interesteddad's point about prevailing culture at small schools. And God forbid your "tastes" should change over four years!

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 10:28 pm: Edit

My younger son is also looking at a range of school "cultures" and my older has just started at Grinnell. I am struggling with the former, having learned a lot from the latter!

The older son is completely oblivious to what people wear, look like, etc...just doesn't meet his threshold for what is "interesting" about a person. He is largely apolitical, but has grown up in a very tolerant and diverse environment. He ultimately decided Grinnell was the best option for him, more so than an comparable east coast LAC, as there is just an easy-going-ness to the place that was missing at the other option, and also at Oberlin. I wish I could come up with another word for it, but maybe there is the same quality at southern LAC's and this is why they also appeal to your child? We haven't visited any, but a friend's son is finding Furman very comfortable as well.

Now that I have been on the campus with students present (he made his choice based on a summer visit)..I am sure we were right. There is academic vigor, lots going on, but not a whiff of stuffiness..

By Csbballstar06 (Csbballstar06) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 11:29 pm: Edit

Robyrm, that may be the indefinable "it" that she is looking for in a school. "Comfort" is not exactly it but add "academic vigor" and "intellectual excitement" to it and maybe "tolerance" and "acceptance" and I believe we are getting closer to a proper description of the indefinable "it".

Somewhat off topic but still interesting, if only to me, was d's removal of CalTech from consideration, and not solely on location. She has very good marks and very good scores and although it is a reach for anyone , I thought someone like her would like to consider at least the possibility of attending and playing ball. My admittedly comely D's "reasoning"? "Dad, I don't think I could stand being the dumb blond jock". I almost fell over laughing.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Tuesday, August 31, 2004 - 11:53 pm: Edit

I brought a t-shirt home from Grinnell, to be worn by son#2 or H...that says "Where the Hell is Grinnell" on the front, and "Who the Hell Cares" on the back. They fought over the t-shirt and now have a weekend shared custody schedule. I don't know about women's b-ball, but the men's team is a perennial winner, and as a friend told me a few days ago, unique in that everyone on the team plays. A very Grinnellian approach, I guess- hard to argue with success..

As for the CalTech thing... Miss Massachusetts '04 is a recent MIT grad!! Times they are a changin...

By A2a2 (A2a2) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 12:59 am: Edit

To join the Grinnell cheering section, S is having a wonderful experience so far. There's been some discussion of economic diversity - so I just wanted to mention that because of it's generous merit and financial aid, Grinnell's student body is more diverse economically than most top LACs.

My son's list wasn't quite as "bi-polar" as your daugher's, but it did include east coast and midwest LACs, as well as one or two universities. Somehow, at the stroke of midnight on April 30th, he figured it out.

By Robyrm (Robyrm) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:19 am: Edit

A2a2, by the way, thanks for the previous reassurance re:housing etc..Son is very happily settled (I type with crossed fingers)...and while the roommate situation is possibly not ideal, it is fine...

By Texdad (Texdad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 01:20 pm: Edit

I would be interested in any comments as to whether Grinnell is so hard that it sucks the life out of kids, like a few of the schools that brag about how "rigorous" they are. I have nothing against a kid working night and day on his "passion", but realistically often times that isn't going to be his/her exact school assignments.

By Interesteddad (Interesteddad) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 02:01 pm: Edit

I cannot give first hand info on Grinnel, but I can comment on my experience years ago at Williams and on considerable reading about academics at Swarthmore (considered to be among the most ball-busting academic workloads in the country).

I did not find Williams to be crushingly difficult, at least to the level of getting average grades (cum laude). It helps a lot if a student is comfortable seeking his or her own level and uses realistic common sense in choosing courses.

For example, if you do the pre-med thing and are determined to be at the top of the class, then yes, the workload borders on crushing. But, if you use some common sense -- like don't schedule two hard science courses with labs in same semester, then it's manageable. One of the keys is to select professors who make the course interesting and reading lists that are enjoyable.

What worries me the most is the classic "uber-driven" kid with "uber-driven" parental pressure, both of whom will accept nothing less than top of the class rankings at these colleges. That can be a bad recipe. I think it's important for parents (and students) to be realistic that not every high school valedicatorian can be the valedictorian in a college full of high school valedictorians!

My own attitude is that, if my daughter graduates from Swarthmore with an average GPA (for Swat.), I will be very pleased and confident that she will have grown immensely in the process. If she finds that she can do better than that, great. That would be a bonus.

We talked on many occasions about whether or not she really wanted to bite off that kind of academic workload. We felt that it was crucial that she make that decision for herself and not from parental pressure -- so we probably went overboard in letting her know that choosing a achool with less rigorous options would have plenty of advantages. We also stressed to her that "academics" are just a small fraction of the college learning experience. She specifically used her fall overnight visit and attending classes to confirm to herself that she was comfortable with the academic rigor.

I am not too worried about it. She has a very healthy approach about engaging with the range of support mechanisms -- the Student Academic Mentor program, the Writing Associates mentoring program, etc. I think the kids who get in trouble are those that don't engage these support programs out of the blocks. Small liberal arts colleges offer so much support that it would be rare for a student to "fail" as long as they don't give up and disengage from the professors and the peer support. Also, I found this to be true at Williams and I know it maybe even more true at Swat: outside of the pre-med club, there isn't a lot of discussion of grades, peer pressure, or cut-throat competition. A "gentleman's C" (or a gentleman's A- with grade inflation!) is a time-honored tradition in schools where the entire student body is smart as heck.

By Ariesathena (Ariesathena) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 03:42 pm: Edit

InterestedDad: Your D sounds a lot like me when I was 18! Jeans, no make-up, occaisonal khakis, played sports, grew up in a 98% white town.

Adjusted well to Tufts, and adjusting well to the W&L atmosphere, though I think I would have hated it five years ago. Undergrad is also a bit (Read: lot) more... something than the LS.

By Farawayplaces (Farawayplaces) on Wednesday, September 01, 2004 - 05:15 pm: Edit


From our daughter's experience at Grinnell: it was not crushingly hard. She did double major in two sciences, so had a rough senior year. Otherwise, it seems like kids have time for some fun on weekends.

I think one way that Grinnell stands out from its other liberal/academic rigorous peers is--Iowa. The school is a mix of pierced and urban kids and pleasant midwest types. There's a very friendly atmosphere overall.

By Texdad (Texdad) on Thursday, September 02, 2004 - 06:31 am: Edit

Thanks faraway places. We plan to visit soon.

By the way where are the "faraway" places?

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