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Autumn Brings Herds of College Shoppers

For first year college students, fall is a mixed bag. There is the excitement of finally leaving the nest, running your own schedule, and choosing your own radio stations; but there is also the prospect of tragically incompatible roommates, institutional food and mountains of un-self-cleaning laundry.

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Autumn Brings Herds of College Shoppers Listen

No level of anxiety can compare, however, to that of the prospective students -- rising high school seniors. I refer to the hordes of stunned college shoppers pushing their tour guides backwards into trees, doors and walls all over America.

My family has spent a fair amount of time in the past several years walking forward and backward on this venture: my youngest daughter most recently as a prospective student; my oldest daughter as a tour guide and college ambassador; and, me, their professor father who has a new-found appreciation for the herds of nervous supplicants shuffling past his office.

My first mistaken assumption was that the prospective student would approach the tour and interview like an eager job candidate. Apparently not. Those overdressed souls are the fringey comic relief that your child howls about all the way to the next college campus. In fact, the relaxed look seems far more common. I remember holding my tongue as my daughter strolled into one admissions lounge in a shirt that looked like it had been sprung from a week in her change purse.

Soon, however, it was clear that no one was going to be judging her too harshly: her tour mate Kyle was turned out in unlaced sneakers the size of dorm refrigerators, droopy basketball shorts, and a t-shirt with the metal band logo "Gravedigger" clawed across his chest.

While this seems a rather careless way to dive to the bottom of the application pool, mortification can come calling in less obvious ways. As we sat in the hushed foyer of another charming liberal arts school, an aspiring junior quietly gave her information to the woman at the sign-in desk. As she and her parents were heading anonymously to their immaculately
upholstered perch, all 30 of us in the room became aware of some confusion regarding her email address: "Wait up, hon. Was that sugarhips or sugarlips at" Sugarhips, as it turned out, feigned deafness, looking searchingly into the eyes of the college's founding president as her parents quietly passed out.

Just a year away from unimaginable independence, both parent and child resist what lies ahead: the un-guided tour of the next four years. My daughter the tour guide related a particularly telling stroll through her campus where she left the Arts Building in a downpour. Fifty feet out, she looked back to see the entire tour still inside, waving back. They weren't ready to go anywhere.

Kirk Read teaches French at Bates College in Lewiston.


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