A Parental perspective on the college search, and why I think HMC is so awesome…

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 by Peter

Several moments have coalesced in my mind to inspire this blog post.  First, I recently attended our big professional conference, called NACAC, to get the latest information, to make connections with counselors at various secondary schools, and to reunite with friends.  Since then, I have done college fairs and have visited schools in Denver, Minneapolis, greater Seattle, and even made the first foray for HMC Admission up to Vancouver, BC, Canada.  Upon returning from my latest trip, my wife then left for Parents Weekend at the college where our oldest attends, leaving me with our 11th grade son who is starting to receive mailings from colleges in which he has shown interest.  Hint: one “shows interest” not by passively looking at a web site or reading the emails rather than deleting them, but by actively subscribing to the mailing list by writing to them, or going onto their web site for prospective students to join the mailing list. In my son’s case, he also went to his first visit from a college and actually took notes. (Way to go, Connor!) Meanwhile, my wife has been telling me about all the friends and connections our oldest has been making.  Her pride in him is quite evident.

All this makes me reflect on the parent perspective in this college search process.  What I have come up with, knowing that my own view is skewed by my experiences, is that parents might have some or all of these hopes for their children, in no particular order:

  • To develop independence
  • That their children will grow  in a place that encourages them to try new things but without a great amount of negative consequences or heavy risk
  • That the parents might be informed of how their students are changing and maturing
  • To feel assured that their sons or daughters are part of a community
  • That they stay safe, and I mean that not just in a physical way
  • That they may be somewhat employable after college
  • That neither they nor the child amasses too much debt in the process
  • Perhaps there are expectations of how much the college will cost or how close to home the college may be
  • That the college adds some value to the child’s life.  One wonders if the students and parents share the same notion of what constitutes “value” or if the parents surrender their idea of value to their child’s image of value, or vice versa

A recent article in TIME magazine showed a significant disconnect  between what educators think that education should do and what families (consumers?) think.  Educators saw the chief object to develop individuals who think critically, are prepared for life-long learning, and are prepared to become good citizens.  The public saw the main purpose of college was to get a job. Hmm.

When I consider HMC in this context, I reflect on so many fantastic reports (and subsequent attention) about how employable our graduates are, and how well they fare in getting into top PhD programs.  While this is all a source of great pride for the college, it seems to me (at least I hope I don’t flatter myself) that the main reason students choose to come to HMC is for the people and the wonderful community that exists here, not merely for the outcome.  I know that I have enormous fun working here, being part of the energy, ideas, and amazingly warm-hearted people who are associated with Mudd.

I like to think that the desire to prepare lifelong learners who will be good citizens is not incompatible with providing the kind of community that hits the points listed above, and also makes good outcomes possible, because, in the end, it is the quality of the thinking and problem-solving that those grad schools and employers are so interested in.  We do add value, in my opinion.  Maybe that is what parents ultimately hope for their children in college.