Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Going to College

It's College Fair time and I'm a busy girl.  Today, I started at 2pm and I will finish at 9.  I'll have visited a Catholic high school, a non-denominational private high school and tonight, 3000+ students and their parents will descend on the Tucson Convention Center for the big public high schools fair.  That's a lot of talking (something that's never been a problem for me) and a lot of driving (80 miles by the time I'm finished) and many bottles of water.  I drag my boxes of Cornelliana from my trunk to the venue using my luggage cart and my muscles.  I have a Cornell banner to decorate the front of my table, and this year I remembered to put a roll of packing tape in the box so that I can attach it to the front of my space.  Some schools come with their own tablecloths, but I am not that fortunate.  However, I do have a poster that I can use to protect my delicate self from the rough table tops that the schools bring out for these events.  Splinters are not part of this job description.

The kids come in all shapes and sizes and colors.  They are well-prepared and totally unprepared.  For every kid with a pre-printed list of questions and a pen to record the answers, there are 5 or 10 who want to know if they can study cosmetology in the Ivy League.  I've picked up a few tricks over the years I've been doing these dog and pony shows, and my standard opening is "Do you have really good grades?"  The appropriate applicants stand up just a little taller and smile just a little wider as they nod their heads and agree with me.  The kids who seem to shrink into themselves, the ones whose eyes roll up and to the right, the ones who giggle and say No without embarrassment, those are the ones I worry about.  This is the Ivy League, after all.  You can't just slide into a space, you have to earn it.

"What kinds of courses should I take in high school" is a FAQ.  "Is it better to get good grades in an easy course or worse grades in an AP class?"  is another.  My answers don't do much to make them smile.  "You should take the toughest classes your school offers and you should get high marks in those classes."  One young man asked me if his mother had told me to tell him that.  I laughed and said that all good mothers think alike and she was not just saying that to make his life miserable, as he alleged.

Some of the students arrive with parents in tow.  Their questions tend to focus on the financial aid packages available.  Since Cornell has instituted a policy that no student will incur more than $7500 per year in loans, I am getting used to seeing very surprised parents on the other side of my table.  The University of Arizona used to be tough competition for us.  The AIMS Scholarships gave a free ride to those students who scored well on the state's standardized test - and the kids had 3 tries to accomplish their goals.  With the budget crisis facing our state, the grants have been dramatically reduced and all of a sudden staying home for college is less financially attractive.  Last year I was interviewed by the local NBC affiliate and my face made the 10pm news.  My congratulatory phone calls all included surprise at the generosity of my alma mater.  I was (and am) proud.

Some of the students were hyper-organized.  They came to my table with spreadsheets and pre-printed questions.  Others were clearly at a loss.  They had no questions, no curiosity, no idea where to start.  I worry about them.  But then there were the kids who know what they want to be when they grow up and have a plan to get there.  The girl who wants to be a vet, and wonders if an undergraduate degree from Cornell will help her gain entry to their Vet School was followed by the prospective geologist who is struggling to find a school which has not cut that department.  Who knew that geologists were having trouble finding an education? 

I met a young man who is interested in cryptozoology.... and he says it has nothing to do with decoding ciphers.  I promised to call Ithaca and see if anyone can teach him what he wants to know.  The budding biometric engineer stood open-mouthed and stunned upon hearing that Cornell had built an entire building devoted to nano-technology.  He just kept repeating a whole building as his classmates milled about him.  Sometimes, I am the bearer of very good news, it seems.

And now, dear denizens, I must leave you and drive to the Convention Center to entice even more students with the wonderfulness that is Cornell.  It's nice to do a job you enjoy.

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