Our college tour
July 8, 2013
by Jenni Sebora

Last week, my husband and I took our son on his first college visit. It was “private school college visit week” in Minnesota. During this week, families can attend two hour-long visits to any Minnesota private school during designated times during the day.

Our son will be a junior this school year. We thought this would be a good opportunity to start the visits in a way that doesn’t feel like you are committing to any one school. We headed to Northfield Friday, to take in the visits of its two colleges, St. Olaf and Carleton.

Our son has verbalized on different occasions that he wants to venture out of Minnesota for his college experience. We are not opposed to that, but he being young and us being older and wiser, we wanted him to see what Minnesota has to offer.

So, he appeased his ol’ mom and pop and participated in these tours. Northfield is a beautiful little city with a lot to offer. It is the home of two great colleges that are smaller, but offer a lot, including a wonderful education, very safe environments, small class sizes, and small student-to-advisor ratio, approximately 10-1.

While taking us through the student union, our tour guide, a senior at St. Olaf, told us that our son could put down his backpack and computer in a corner unattended and come back hours later and it would not be disturbed. There is really no issue of vandalism or stealing; thus a very safe environment. Mamas like this.

As part of the St. Olaf tour, a philosophy teacher gave a class lesson to all of us, including parents, on the meaning of happiness. This was to give participants a feel for what a college class would be like. It was pretty impressive.

I got into the discussion as he pointed out that most classes, of course, have lecture, but lots of discussion. (My son nudged me once, but he should know that his mother can’t help but join in). I like this part. For one thing, it makes students stay awake and alert, which is important, but also promotes critical thinking and the further development of their value systems.

Class sizes at most of these private schools range from one, to about 22 being the largest. If a student skips, the professor knows. This is a good thing. I also respect teaching assistants, but I want my child to be taught by the professor, who has the experience and the degree. At these smaller, private schools, all classes are taught by the professor. The teaching assistants provide tutoring and assistance to the professor. This is good.

Professor availability for student help and guidance is major. Many students attend barbecues at their teachers’ homes. Pretty neat. I don’t think this happens much in large universities.

About 75 percent of students at these private colleges study off campus in other places, including Chicago, New Zealand, and China.

Most of the time, students can use their college stipend to participate in these off campus experiences – another plus – as I know our son would want to engage in this opportunity. That is the neat thing about college. It is more than just about the classroom experience.

We all know college is expensive, wherever one goes. The fallacy exists that private schools will cost a student so much more to attend. Untrue. While the outright yearly tuition is higher, the financial aid awards are usually much larger. I urge all families who have a son or daughter who will be attending college in the future, to research this. We did, and were amazed.

Now I am certainly not saying that a public college or university will not provide a good education, and may be the right fit for many students, but it is worth checking out the smaller private school if that is of any interest. I know, because my son commented that the schools were better than he thought.

I also urge families to take advantage of these special tours that are set up. They are worth it, just to gain information about colleges in general, and to learn what would be the best fit for your son or daughter.

I am sure we will be embarking on more visits in the near future. I can’t believe that my own child is at this stage in life – I thought I just graduated from high school and college.

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