Looking back at my own college search, it is a wonder it turned out as well as it did. While my parents didn't go to college, there was never any question (in their minds or mine) I would. However, given that no one in my immediate family had been through a college search — how I prepared for the process, where and when I applied, how I chose my college and the things I considered in making my final selection — meant that I was paving my own way every step of the way. In a weird way, I'm glad I didn't know then what I do now.
I was the oldest child in my family and graduated from a rural high school where most students who attended college (fewer than half, I think) stayed close to home. I took the SAT once (if SAT prep existed back then, I hadn't heard of it), I applied to one college really far away (about two hours), I handwrote one essay (I wonder if anyone proofed it for me...I remember doing it last minute), and I never stepped foot in the door of the admission office at my college. I did meet with a coach and knew two alums, all of whom I liked, so that sealed the deal for me. Fortunately, I was admitted Early Decision and the rest is history.
That I wasn't following "the rules" of the admission process was lost on me, and probably on my family. I was admitted to my top choice college, I got the financial aid I needed, and off I went. I often wonder what I would have done if I didn't get in to my dream school. I'd like to think I would have been sad for about a day, refocused my energy in a new direction, and found another dream.
It wasn't until I arrived at college that I realized that my preparation and approach to the process, as well as my background, were so different than many of my peers. I was exposed to a whole new world—academically, culturally, socially, socioeconomically. It many ways it was exciting; in others it was difficult and overwhelming. More than anything, it was humbling. I was grateful for my parents' small town values, their belief that good things happen to those who work hard, and their lack of cynicism (or, perhaps, knowledge) about what is sometimes perceived as the college admission game. I learned about Shakespeare and calculus, soccer and pottery, who were my friends (and who weren't), how to stand up for myself, and how to talk and walk backwards at once (yep, you guessed, that's where it all started).
Especially in my current role at Hamilton, I value the fresh perspective and approach of families going through the college search process with their children for the first time. While it might seem intimidating, or even feel burdensome at times, I actually view their innocence as a blessing. Approaching each task, challenge or hurdle with little knowledge of the potential barriers or obstacles might just make it easier to get to the other side. And I like to think that Hamilton's special interest in students who are the first in their family to attend college contributes to making the process less nerve-racking.