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The big college tour shows that there's hope yet

WHEN WE LAST left Jessie, Kate and Jenn, they were playing lacrosse for all they were worth at a series of recruiting tournaments, hoping that a college coach would notice.

In that episode, I played the role of the groom, following these fillies around with water, snacks and hair supplies and absorbing their irritability. Thoroughbred lacrosse players can be notoriously irritable.

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In this week's installment, Jessie, Kate and Jenn visit colleges, having been convinced by their parents that they can't continue to play lacrosse without going to one.

The result was another week trapped in a van with impatient teen-age girls who would rather be doing anything else, especially if it involves a beach.

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Don't get me wrong. These are very bright young ladies, and they would do any institution proud. Just don't ask them to do it while the sun is this high in the sky.

I am sure there are, somewhere, very serious high-school seniors, who will spend this summer poring over college catalogs searching for that perfect core curriculum.

But they weren't with me that week in the van.

I had, instead, the high-school seniors who had to be reminded to turn off their cell phones and spit out their gum before each interview.

I have never been so nervous as I was when the admissions officer escorted the girls, especially my own, away for a private chat. As I was by then well aware, you just never know what is going to come out of their mouths.

In addition, my attempt to prep the girls with softball questions was dismissed with that now-familiar irritability, and I was reduced to pleading, "Just don't look bored!"

"If they ask my daughter anything more complicated than 'What's your favorite color?' we could be in for a long afternoon," I confided to another parent.

To my astonishment, each admissions officer glowed with pride after meeting the girls, declaring them perfect candidates and causing me to conclude that a college education is, indeed, a possibility for everyone.

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I have come to understand that a student's choice of college is serendipitous at best; that it has more to do with first impressions and gut instincts than it does with how many faculty have Ph.D.'s and how many graduates get into good medical schools.

But you can't help but worry when your daughter declares one college to be her favorite because it has the best cafeteria - and the cafeteria is under renovation. Talk about optimism.

One of the girls wanted a football team. Another said she wanted sororities. But none of them wanted the "intimate, collegial, working relationship with a professor" that the tour guides promised. They just wanted to know what would be on the test.

One tour was nearly scuttled when the student guide let it slip that the school's nickname was regularly shortened to "the Dips." Another was over when the tour guide said once too often that the students looking for something to do could "just get on a bus and go."

Truth be told, the girls were, as always, lively companions and willing to overlook some pretty wretched dorm rooms for the sake of furthering their education.

But matters deteriorated when Jessie's dad, my husband, decided he wanted to come along on one of the tours.

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Jessie's dad is a very bright guy, capable of earning a good living, but he is a little drifty, and he kept wandering away from the tour group, suddenly curious about who knows what. As our group left the cafeteria or the library or the classroom buildings, we would have to scurry around and corral him.

When we found him doing arm curls with one of the athletes in the fitness center, Jessie turned a deeper red than any school color. He also disappeared moments before an interview was to begin, and arrived wearing a brand-new baseball cap emblazoned with the school's nickname.

Nonetheless, after a week of touring college campuses I can say with certainty that the girls are enthusiastic about all the schools they visited and would cheerfully attend any one of them.

As long as Jessie's dad doesn't go there, too.


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