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By Sally Torbey

The campus tour

Uploaded: Nov 3, 2013

Our family is in the throes of our third child applying to college. My husband and I are trying to talk our youngest children into alternative educational opportunities, as we are not certain we have the stamina to support two more kids through this process. They have not yet agreed, but since they are still in elementary and middle school, we have a few years to convince them!

Applying to college is an all consuming task for students, requiring many hours of test prepping, standardized test taking, school vacations traveling for college visits and interviews, and the writing of dozens of essays for applications. It also dominates the dinner conversation for about a year, so the whole family can be involved.

From the time students start high school, they are inundated with colorful brochures and glossy postcards advertising colleges and urging them to apply. Having watched his older siblings go through this process, our senior is skeptical about all the mail. "Look, another college that wants me to apply so they can reject me and increase their selectivity ratings!" There are also college guides, college fairs, college representatives visiting the high school and college websites as sources of information. The most important ritual, though, in finalizing the list of where to apply is the college visit. The most important part of the college visit is the campus tour.

In fact, where students decide to apply to college really comes down to just one factor, the student tour guide. As far as my kids are concerned, the tour guide is representative of every student who has ever attended, currently attends, or will ever attend that college or university. The appeal of the tour guide is directly related to how well he or she has mastered simultaneously talking, gesturing towards buildings, and drinking a chai latte, all while walking backwards. We had one tour guide who wore four inch wedged platform flip- flops in April, in Minnesota. There was still snow on the ground. I spent the hour anxiously watching her slip on the ice and stumble off curbs, while I googled first aid for sprained ankles and concussions. The tour guide's lack of poise doomed that college for my daughter, who refused to apply. Another college's tour guide was wearing a red Coca- Cola T-shirt with " Enjoy Cocaine" written on it. I refused to let our son apply to that one. Of course, there are the tour guides whose presentations are so polished, I was tempted to ask to see their college ID, as it seemed more likely they were professional actors hired to impersonate student tour guides.

There is one very significant upside to college visits. Our teens have been so busy with homework, sports, or writing into the wee hours of the night for the school newsmagazine, that we have not actually seen them since they started high school. We know they still live with us because laundry appears, groceries disappear and we receive the occasional text. College visits give us the opportunity to spend many uninterrupted hours in planes, rental cars, hotels and restaurants with our senior. Driving through Iowa with spotty cell phone and Internet access is especially good for bonding. And in between college visits in southern California, my daughter and I spent a delightful afternoon at Disneyland. I had no idea that Disneyland is much more fun without small children along.

Through supporting our teens in the application process, we get reacquainted with them, just in time to send them off to college. The downside is that having had the opportunity to enjoy their company again, we miss them even more!