Day 2 College Tour – Duke: Hogwarts in the Land of Tobacco and BBQ Reply

IMG_8188The last time I visited Duke, Tom was applying to graduate school (20+ years ago) and I have to say a lot has changed in downtown Durham. Annie and I were thrilled to find JuJu, a delicious Asian Fusion restaurant on Ninth Street that was recommended by a friend who recently toured Duke. Our lunch of banh mi, pork buns and wild boar dumplings was so unexpectedly good. As much as Durham has changed, thankfully Duke is still Duke – an absolutely beautiful campus where you just feel smarter by simply walking among it’s select student population. I’m so in awe of college students these days; they major, they minor, they earn certificates, they save the world over summer vacation, study abroad in places like Antartica and have jobs before they enter senior year. As I sit in college info sessions I’m torn between wishing I could return to college in 2016 and thanking god that I went in the 80’s where you were just happy to graduate.

We arrived on campus the day of the Duke UNC basketball game which is a HUGE deal for both of these schools. Have you heard of tenting? It’s a Duke event/tradition – and begins several months before each Duke UNC basketball game. Supposedly there are no student tickets to games. Students are admitted from a student “line” 90 minutes before each game. But seats at this semiannual event are so hot, the line becomes a tented city that starts in early January. Each tent “team” must have 12 students and in the first few weeks, each team must have 2 people in the tent at all times and 10 must sleep there each night. The inhabitant requirements diminish as the game nears, but the line monitoring tent checks increase. If a tent is caught violating the rules, it can get moved to the end of the tent line. If they are caught violating it more than once, they can get kicked out of K-ville (the tent area named after Coach K). Duke has installed WiFi and Ethernet ports in the light posts so students won’t fall behind on their school work. Heaters are not permitted and it’s been pretty cold these past few weeks. Annie and I stopped by for a little tent tour:


These two pictures are looking left and right…

IMG_8194 IMG_8197


This was a really big tent complete with white picket fence, a mailbox and an instagram account.

IMG_8200 IMG_8202

And, if they are victorious tonight, the game will climax with the…wait for it… burning of the benches!

IMG_8192 IMG_8193IMG_8189IMG_8191

*** helpful tip of the day: If you are signed up for the early morning info session, arrival time is important. Arrive too early and although there are lots of parking spots, there is no one to give you a parking permit. Arrive too late and the spots are all taken. Plan on getting where you are going 30 minutes before the actual start time. And always, always check in! (Demonstrated Interest)

The Light At The End of The Tunnel: Taking the 4th (and last) Child on College Tours Reply

IMG_8161Having just recently received word that child #3 had been admitted to college (Tulane, Class of 2020), I find myself back on the open road doing the college tour all over again with child #4. Since each one is different, there are no repeats in the school list. It’s a clean slate, which in my case means all new opportunities to get lost, eat food high in calories and saturated fat and have one on one mother/daughter time where I will learn all of my downfalls and shortcomings. If you’ve never had the pleasure of touring colleges you should know the planning can sometimes be more complicated than a European vacation. Weather is a big factor as is obtaining a spot at a coveted info session and tour during a school break. And most schools are far from one another and require various modes of transportation even when you try and scale it down to size by a geographic area.

This trip we are doing North Carolina with a finale in Tennessee. Winter in North Carolina is tricky and can change in one day which makes packing a carryon with a week’s worth of clothes challenging. We arrived Monday night in an ice storm keeping us from venturing outside for dinner (there was an attempt – after a quick slip we turned right around and headed back inside). I highly recommend reaching out to anyone you may know that has attended the school you are visiting prior to making your reservations. A well situated hotel, close to campus with a great bar and restaurant can be key especially in bad weather. Our Carolina advice came from Stephanie, a friend from Rye who graduated a few years ago. She couldn’t have given us better counsel by suggesting the Carolina Inn. Dinner was delicious, our room was large and the bed very comfortable. The homemade cookies by our pillow sealed the deal. Last night, while watching the Grammy’s, the school delays scrolled as we watched. This morning we woke to a sunny mid-50 degree day: crazy North Carolina weather.

Breakfast was at the Waffle House on Franklin Street. However, if you are visiting UNC, don’t just go into the first Waffle House you find on Franklin Street because if you do, you’ll realize after you’ve eaten, that when you walk a little further that is was the wrong Waffle House. You were actually looking for Ye Olde Waffle House. This sort of thing happens to me a lot. Regardless, it was a good enough waffle and the coffee was pretty decent.

IMG_8170We happen to be visiting UNC at a very interesting time. They play Duke at home tomorrow night (they only play Duke twice a year) and so everyone is getting in the sprit of things.

IMG_8168 (1)


I particularly liked the window display at the bookstore. I wasn’t sure if this was on purpose or not…


UNC, which I now know students here call Carolina, has a lot of old and quirky superstitions. One is drinking out of a fountain that used to be a well that served as the only water source for the school back when it opened in the late 1700’s. It guarantees a 4.0 each semester you drink from it. I thought it couldn’t hurt for Annie to take a drink.

IMG_8183A little bonus on this trip is the proximity of UNC and Duke. We actually don’t need to switch hotels today! It will be a little strange to visit Duke after our day of hearing about the ongoing rivalry from the Carolina perspective. I’m sure we’ll here more of the same but different tomorrow as we hit the cross town rival’s campus. Stay tuned…

On The Road Again…Day 8 of The College Tour Reply

We are officially into the second week of the very long college tour but today we had a breath of fresh air. Up until now the college tours and info sessions have pretty much been the same, following the same format, the check in at admissions, the finding of a seat (sometimes being squeezed into a small room with a ton of other sardines and sometimes being more spread out). College office of admissions for the most part, all look the same and the tours follow the same sort of track around the campus (science building, gym, cafeteria, food trucks, dorm, student center…you get the picture). But today we woke up in Savannah, Georgia and took a tour of the Savannah College of Art and Design and we knew from the moment we arrived, we weren’t in Kansas (aka the “normal” college tour) anymore. From the outside, the building looked like this:


But then we walked into what felt like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory and this is where the info session was held…and they were serving breakfast too!


I was almost giddy with excitement. This seemed like the college of dreams, where everything was shiny and new and creative and possible. And it only got better. We started the visit at the Student Center in a converted synagogue! The lights in the ceiling turned colors while we heard about all the amazing features of the building. I didn’t even include the picture of the room with skeeball, pool tables, pin ball machines, foozball, etc… because…


There were napping pods! Like Google and Facebook have.


and the cones of silence that drop down from the ceiling (actually i named them the cones of slilence; they are really cool speakers that only let the few students who are in that particular area watch a video while not disturbing the other kids watching a different video nearby).


And the ceiling of the photography building looked like this:


So you get the idea – 100% totally different and super duper awesome. Then they told us that 93% of their graduating seniors either have a job in their field or are admitted to grad school. Is this possibly true? If so, it’s positively dreamy.

We even had lunch at the student run gourmet, farm to table, delicious tea room called Gryphon I loved the napkin rings just as much as the cold sesame noodles with grilled shrimp and fresh greens.


And after the info session and tour we actually got to meet with an admissions counselor who took the time to look at sophie’s art (we travel avec thumbstick). All in all, a very positive experience all around.  After lunch we got back in the car and drove 2.5 hours to Charleston, SC the very last stop on our tour. Our visit to the College of Charleston isn’t until Monday so we have the entire weekend off! and we were THRILLLED to welcome Tom! He flew in and joined up with us in time for a nice long walk around the city where we saw some amazing homes and historic statues. He arrived just in the nick of time as I had been without a right contact lens for most of the trip and was in desperate need of my denim jacket – it does get a little chilly in the south at night. I’ve learned my lesson – no matter where I travel the denim jacket comes too. Our first meal of the weekend (and there will be many to come) was at McCrady’s, James Beard winner Sean Brock’s restaurant on E. Bay Street. The man is obsessed with popcorn. It was in every dish on the menu in some way shape or form but I’m not complaining. The food was amazing, even if he shaved popcorn over my sashimi tuna. I’m so happy to have reinforcements and I’m very excited for the weekend!

Happy Pesach and Good Friday to all.

IMG_2688 IMG_2689 IMG_2690

On The Road Again – It’s College Tour Season Reply

welcometocampusSpring Break – Junior year of High School is the official kick-off to the college tour season. And even though each kid is different; my first son wanted “California or Bust” the second son was all about playing football and my current junior is a girl who wants to study art, the college tour road show is for the most part a ritual that has seen few changes.

Step One: Sometime around the beginning of the new year, spend time with your student trying to come up with a working list of colleges to visit. Depending on your student, this could be a very short conversation or one that drags on for weeks. Because honestly, sixteen year old kids hardly know what they want for lunch let alone where they want to spend four years going to college. But let’s assume you are able to jot down 5-7 schools that are within reason (this would be the parent’s reason because  a list of the top 5 party schools in the United States might not be your idea of a real college list), this is the beginning of your college tour plan. I used the website to map the schools on my daughter’s list. This is a very good way to visualize where the schools are located in relation to one another. Immediately, it became obvious that there were outliers that we weren’t going to be able to visit on our tour.

Step Two: Prioritize. You can’t visit every school your child wants to see – it’s too expensive, time consuming and to be honest, after your 6th or 7th campus, it can become mindnumbing and they will all start blurring into one another. Once you have your priority list you must first, before you book a flight or reserve a rental car, make an appointment for the college tour/information session. Most schools have both and they are booked together, usually first thing in the morning or after lunch. Combined they take about 2 0 2.5 hours to complete. These sessions fill up, especially during spring break so book these first. You can always cancel later. When choosing your tour and info session check first to see that the college is in session because it is spring break and not just for high school students. Sometimes, one of the schools will be on break and it can’t be avoided. Schools still give tours even when school is not in session. Seeing kids on campus is a big part of the information you will need to make your decision.

Step Three: Arrange transportation and book hotels. I start on the school’s website and look on the admissions page for suggested area hotels. Almost always they provide a varied list of choices including discounts (if you mention you are visiting the school you get a better rate). I also ask anyone who has a kid currently attending that school as parents always have the inside scoop (especially when the school is located in the middle of nowhere as many of them are). Transportation is really the killer piece in the entire process. Depending on your student’s list and how far away the schools are from one another. This year, my daughter’s list includes schools in five states making it impossible to simply drive from one to another. A combination of one way flights and rental cars was required to get us from school A to school G.

Step Four: Try and add in a few things to see, do or eat for yourself. Yes, this college tour is all about your kid and it’s their tour – you are just there because they are too young to rent the car – but it’s a lot of work, pressure and stress to make sure everything comes off without a hitch so make sure there is something in it for you. For me, this means researching the best local places to eat and I make reservations way beforehand. We don’t spend any time wandering around looking for a place when we are hangry and it also gives me something to look forward to.

Step Five: Packing. This is an important piece as you will most likely be on the road for some time and you don’t want to be dragging around a huge piece of luggage (or two). Pack a carry-on size suitcase and make sure you bring comfortable shoes, tide-to go, a raincoat, an extra sweater or sweatshirt and a bathing suit (some hotels have pools and a swim might be the perfect thing to let off some steam).

Step Six: Get to the tours on the early side and make sure you always sign in. It’s very important that the colleges see that you made the time and effort to come and visit their school. If there is a school not on your list but it’s in the vicinity, stop in, pick up literature and sign your name. You never know when you’ll need another school to add to the application list and even if you didn’t go on the tour, they still see that you were there. While on the tour, try not to be “that parent”. The one that asks all the questions and usurps the guide’s time and energy. This is your child’s tour and you will be a total embarrasment to them. Most likely every question you have will either be asked by someone else or you can find it online or in the literature you will be inundated with. Do use your phone to take photos (when you arrive on campus take a photo with the name of the school first so you know to which school those photos belong) and take notes if you feel you need to. Again, everything you need to know can be found online or in their brochures. There isn’t a question you are likely to have that they haven’t been asked 10,000 times before.

Step Seven: Encourage your child to really take a good look at the kids, the dorm rooms, the quad, the dining all and see if they can picture themselves there. A good fit is the MOST important piece of this puzzle. There are so many fabulous schools in the United States but not all of them will be fabulous for your child. The priority should be first and foremost that they are happy where they land. Happy students make good students. Unhappy students just want to come home.

Step Eight: Downtime is important. Non-stop college touring takes a lot out of a student and her mother – don’t spend every second rehashing everything you saw and felt. Take the time to marinate the information overload. Let your kid put on their headphones in the car and listen to their music. Rent a movie in the hotel room. Listen to podcasts or books while driving.

Step Nine: At the end of each tour, it’s a good idea to make a few notes regarding what your daughter or son thought about the school – things they will be able to recall months later when it’s application time. Most schools have a supplemental essay on the application that asks, Why Us? Wouldn’t it be nice to whip out your list and have 5 great reasons why them instead of searching their website like everyone else? That time taking personal notes will pay dividends later.

Step Ten: Try and enjoy the one on one time with your child. The fact that you are on this college tour means that in a little over a year they will be moving away from home. And in my experience, sometimes they move very far away and don’t come home often. Treasure the time you have together and make some memories.

Happy Hunting!