"College Counseling Notes from the Road" by Director of College Counseling Kate Ramsdell
College Counseling Notes from the Road: 680 miles. 5 colleges. 3 days. Or, “Welcome to Oxford, Mississippi, home of the Harvard of the South!”
April 5, 2017 – Atlanta-Hartsfield International Airport
This morning Tom Resor and I navigated our way out of Tuscaloosa in a driving – and I mean couldn’t see ten feet in front of us – thunderstorm. Last night at 11:45 we received an email alert from our admissions officer at the University of Alabama sharing that the campus was going to suspend classes because of severe storm activity. Well, Roll Tide! Though we didn’t get a chance to see as much of the campus as planned, we affirmed what we’ve known for a long time: ask anyone you meet in a college town if they’re affiliated with the university, and you’ll gain incredible insider knowledge.
We ate in the hotel restaurant late last night, and our server was a senior communications and journalism major. We were her only patrons, so she spent the better part of an hour with us. We discussed politics and race relations on campus, social life and her future. Hoping to get a job in the PR department of a professional sports team when she graduates, Tasha was about to leave for an internship with Ford in Dearborn, Michigan, (for credit) in community relations. She had interned at Disney her first year, and had overseen on-campus recruiting events for the Alabama Football team for the last two years. Hello, experiential learning! Her classes all had fewer than 20 students once she was taking major courses starting sophomore year, and the largest class she could remember was with a professor who had taken time to get to know her in a class of 150. She gave us some good intel on the football program, too, but we were sworn to secrecy.
April 4, 2017- In a rented Sentra, somewhere in central Mississippi
ME: “Do you think Mississippi State is nearby?”
TOM: “Let’s look it up.”
ME: “You know Jen Craft went to MSU for a year before she finished at Virginia Tech?”
TOM: “Really? Interesting.”
ME: “It’s in the opposite direction on I-45. Let’s do it!”
We rolled into Starkville as the shadows lengthened, and as we pulled into campus, I spotted a sign on the median: Baseball Game Day. We took a U-turn and headed to the baseball stadium (where it was also Harry Potter night). We laughed because all five colleges we’d visited mentioned Harry Potter at some point. With an hour 'til game time, we ventured over to the basketball arena. The doors were locked. We weren’t deterred. If I have learned anything in my time as a college counselor, it’s this: don’t let a locked door stop you.
Quickly, a fellow in an MSU athletics shirt hustled over from inside an office to greet us. Turns out he was a graduate, had served as a trainer for the basketball and football teams for over a decade, and for the last 15 years had managed all of the athletics facilities and events. He was happy to share his love of the place (and some of its warts) with us. Turns out all of MSU’s championship athletic banners are made in Watertown, Massachusetts, right alongside Nobles’! Who knew.
We stayed for three innings of serious baseball (think minor-league quality in a stadium that seats 17,000) and then got back on the road after a walk through the academic quads. Engineering Week was unfolding on the grass at dusk, industrial engineers pitted against civil engineering majors in a raucous game of capture the flag. We truly hope they are better engineers than they were runners.
April 3 – End of a longer than expected day at “the Harvard of the South”
Though time is often of the essence on a college visit, Tom and I ended up staying a night and a full day in Oxford. It epitomizes a “college town” – bustling with students and locals, excellent restaurants, a great trivia night at a local watering hole (we came in 10th out of 14 teams), and one of the best independently owned bookstores we had ever visited. Dick Baker supported us on this opinion, so it has to be good! Square Books. Check it out.
Ole Miss is a gem. And though I’d long known it was an oasis in the middle of a state that is challenged by almost every measure, it was better than either one of us could have expected. We were treated to the best information session either one of us can remember. Our admissions host, William Boyles, was a recent graduate and native Mississippian who had chosen the honors program at Ole Miss over a number of excellent options all over the country. Brilliant, engaging and honest, he shared stories and facts in a way that made the university stand out. For those of you who have endured cookie-cutter information sessions, you know what a skill this is. As a member of the honors college, he had access to special classes and all the best professors, stipends for summer travel and research. In fact, William had been fully funded by the university to travel for thesis work – to Spain, the UK, Sweden and Rome. William openly discussed the university’s difficult history as it related to racial discrimination and shared, eloquently and thoughtfully, why being at Ole Miss had challenged him (as a registered Democrat in a deep red state) to listen and ask questions and to think about how and why he and his peers could have such different values and perspectives. Sign me up.
Granted, it was 80 degrees in early April, magnolia trees in full bloom dotted every corner, and the campus buzzed with positive energy, but Ole Miss had us at "hi, y’all." As Tom and I were about to leave, we were planning our own retirements to Oxford and wondering how we could get more families out on the road to see places that might surprise them, too.
Time is tight for many Nobles families; we know that. Resources don’t often allow for trips to far-flung destinations. We can fully appreciate that fact. And yet, if every student of mine could have his or her “Ole Miss moment,” I would feel I’d done my job well.