When I tell my friends the names of some of the colleges my son was recently accepted into the response is often, “Wow, he got in there?!”
And when I tell them he got into Allegheny College their response is often, “What’s that?”
Similarly, when my son came to me in late December, informing me, after all his other applications were in, that he now wanted to apply to Allegheny I looked at him and said something along the lines of, “What’s that?”
Fortunately my son was able to jog my memory, reminding me the school was featured in a book we had both read a while back, Colleges That Change Lives. It’s known as an academically rigorous college that requires its students to either double major or major and minor in completely different disciplines (say Chemistry and English) and then take a few classes in a third (like Music). So I could see why my son, who has a passion for art, biology and history, might be attracted to the place.
The acceptance letter for Allegheny appeared in our mailbox on the same day that the acceptance letter for one of the most competitive liberal arts school’s in the country came in. And I have to admit, I wasn’t as excited about the first as I was about the latter. The fact that Allegheny is located in Meadville, a town we had never heard of in Pennsylvania, located an hour and a half away from the nearest airport, didn’t help. He had been accepted into schools in Portland, Memphis and Boston. We’re city people, Angelinos. Why would he choose to spend four years in a town with one hotel and no Starbucks? I couldn’t fathom it.
And yet for various reasons we decided to visit the campus. And the first thing I thought upon arrival is, this place is gorgeous. One of the other schools he had been accepted into was, according to the Princeton Review, the most beautiful campus in America. But after seeing Allegheny I found myself in disagreement with the Princeton Review. So many beautifully restored and maintained buildings from the early 19th century. It was awe inspiring. We also discovered that it’s a much bigger campus than what’s typical for a small liberal arts school. In fact it’s bigger than UCLA. They also have countless student activities and clubs for their residents to occupy themselves with.
I dropped my son off at Admissions where he was to meet his host for an overnight-stay in campus housing while I crashed at a nearby B&B. The next day he told me it had been the best college overnight he had had. The students were welcoming, they got his offbeat sense of humor, they took him to the game room where they played pinball and old-school style arcade games and to top it all off, his host lived in themed housing for students who had a passion for books (yes, really). He was also able to meet with one of the professors in the art department whom he really clicked with in the morning before he sat in on a class.
Oh, and about that class, the school had selected a poetry class for him to observe. While he had asked to observe an English class, he certainly hadn’t said poetry and I figured that in and of itself might end up being a strike against the school.
But my son, my comic-book-reading, Star Wars loving son, came out of that class truly excited about poetry. The professor had apparently been amazing as had the class discussion. So much so that he was still having that discussion with one of the students as they walked out of the English building.
Finally the two of us met up again for the campus tour in which we learned that Allegheny had one of the top 5 Environmental Sciences departments in the nation, that they have an observatory with an antique telescope that the Smithsonian is vying for (Allegheny won’t give it up. It still works and the Astronomy club still uses it…did I mention my son loves astronomy?) and that the alumni network is both strong and supportive. My son asked our student tour guide if there was a Hillel and he said, yes and that, in fact, his roommate was the president.
As we got closer and closer to Decision Day, we got more and more mailings from all the schools. There were letters bragging about the high entry level salary of one school’s graduates, another touting a school’s latest Fulbright and Rhodes Scholars, another from an alumni who was now attending Harvard Business school for his graduate degree and yet another from a alumni/titan of Wall Street.
Like these other schools, Allegheny has its fair share of Fulbright Scholars, famous and wealthy alumni, and alumni who went on to get graduate degrees at Ivy Leagues. But I only know that because of my own research. The mailing we got from Allegheny was a letter from our tour guide’s roommate who heard my son was interested in Hillel and wanted to tell him about it.
In other words, the student who was touring us, remembered my son’s interest in Hillel, told his friend about it and his friend reached out.
So my boy decided that his path is leading him to Allegheny, a school that, until a few months ago, I had never heard of.
A school that appears to be absolutely perfect for him.
Now, as a mom, I just have to learn to let go.