The college process has been a ground-up project for Katy. Some students know where they want to go to school … their parent(s) alma mater … the school they grew up cheering for in the bowl games … the school where they once went to a retreat or summer camp. Katy never had any pre-conceived ideas. She knew she wanted small and out of Atlanta. She did have some idea what she wanted to study — environmental engineering. Knowing that math really isn’t Katy’s strongest area of interest I told her there are plenty of other ways to do environmental work besides engineering. Well, in ninth grade she had an amazingly good biology teacher followed in 10th grade by an amazingly bad math teacher. So she switched gears to biology. But still a STEM field. But where to study? She had no idea. We started visiting the college fairs in ninth grade. I figured it wouldn’t hurt her to see what’s out there, she could collect some brochures and pamphlets to flip through. She also collected bags, water bottles, lanyards, lip balms, pens and pencils galore. Swag is big these days.
She also took the PSAT and put down her email address. A tip for parents of eighth and ninth graders: set up an email account especially for this, once College Board has your email, everyone has your email. So the emails and snail mail started coming in. Since she had indicated in interest in engineering and later biology she got targeted mailings, which were really helpful. There are how many colleges and universities in the country? and she has no idea. She has very good friends (twins) whose mother is a biology professor with a PhD. She said the schools all use the same textbooks and do the same labs so it’s really just a matter of picking a school you like.
It didn’t help that before high school Katy had never been to to a college campus except for the summer I dragged her and Heath around Hardin-Simmons in something like 105 degree heat.
So early her junior year University of Georgia had one Saturday tour when the football team had an away game. I knew she wouldn’t like UGA but I figured it was a starting point, it would give her an idea of what a big state school is like and a frame of reference. And besides, maybe she might like it after all. I was right, not interested, but it did help solidify her decision to go for something smaller with a little more breathing room.
In February Katy had a long weekend from school so I thought that would be a good time to visit Berry College. Berry had been on my radar when Katy was younger, I had run across it online and just loved the looks of it. I put it out of mind because she had her heart set on engineering and they only offer a five-year dual program with Georgia Tech (found out they’ve since added Kennesaw State) and I just wasn’t big on that plan. But when Katy switched to biology I dusted off the thoughts of Berry. Heath wasn’t convinced and I don’t think Katy was, either. But I told them it was worth visiting, if nothing else we could see the eagles and it would be a nice outing.
Old mill on the mountain campus. We had time to kill before the session started and did a little campus sight-seeing.
We came away pretty impressed. This is a small school on a big campus. It’s 2,000 students on 24,000 acres but the main school is clustered in one area. I went to a school of about 2,000 students but Heath went to a big flagship state university. He said what impressed him most was that on the tour everywhere we went our student guide ran into someone she knew. The one really unique thing it has going for it is the Life Works program. Nearly all of the students have campus jobs (everything from answering phones to milking cows) so they really have a stake in the school. So between UGA and Berry, we saw two extremes in campuses.
Heath had heard about Georgia College and State University and thought it sounded promising. Katy’s second grade teacher went to school there and everyone I have ever talked to who knows anything about the school said they went and loved it or they know someone who went and loved it. We went to a garage sale and were talking the proprietor. When she found out Katy was a senior she asked if Katy was looking at colleges and she said she went to GCSU and just loved it. Katy and I talked to an admissions counselor at a college fair and got some good information. So we visited there in May.
This is the only public liberal arts university in the state. Milledgeville is the antebellum capital of Georgia (it remained intact as there wasn’t anything military going on there. Sherman spent one night in town, blew up a small ordnance shed and moved on. The school is buying up all the old buildings around it, including the old Governor’s Mansion.
Heath and Katy in front of the admission’s building, which has some kind of history to it.
As we walked around Katy said this was the first school where she really felt like she belonged. She loved the old buildings and the historic feel. We took a second trip in October when they had an open house for high school seniors. Besides tours and the “sales pitch” each department had an information booth. We went to the college of arts and sciences area and visited with biology, English (what Katy would like to minor in), music (she would like to take her violin) and geography (they had a really cool drone on their table that got our attention). Heath chit-chatted with world languages, right next to the English table. They also had a club fair, which was a chance to talk to some of the students and see what organizations are available. Katy was still really liking the feel of the school.
We went to an information session held locally for Georgia Southern University and then toured the two main campuses. She ruled out the Savannah campus on the spot. The Statesboro campus was a contender. It was bigger than she’d like at 24,000 students but they had a lot of really neat programs.
A photo spot at the Statesboro campus, Gus is the school mascot. Katy wasn’t interested in posing.
We also visited one out of state school. I had been wanting to look at the University of Alabama in Huntsville for years. Katy was very interested in it, too. It’s just down the street from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center where Space Camp is held and they do some advertising at camp. When Katy went to Advanced Space Academy, the program for 10th-12 graders, someone from UAH came and spoke to them. This is a different type of campus. It is in the middle of a technology park and it looks like an office complex.
These buildings are dorms. Most of the buildings are that same red brick. There is a lot of green space, though.
We did the information session, which opened with a video featuring a rocket launch. They work closely with NASA and the many, many tech firms in the city. The school’s biggest thing is engineering but biology is the second-largest science major. There is also a really neat nursing program. I know you’re thinking OOS=expensive, but they have a generous merit program for out-of-state students and Katy qualified for a 100% tuition scholarship, which brings the cost down to what it would cost to stay in state. A big thing at UAH is internships. Every year they have an internship fair and if you aren’t picky, you can get an internship anywhere and some of them pay as much as $20-$30 an hour. So there’s some really good opportunities for work experience.
So those were our tours. I decided that was plenty to pick from, she’d seen a wide variety of campus types and if she wanted to apply anywhere else, we’d see about visiting if she got in.
Then it was time to fill out of the applications. She decided not to apply to Georgia Southern after all. That left her with Georgia College, Berry and UAH.
Not surprisingly, she got into all three. She got a very nice scholarship at Berry and the 100% tuition scholarship at UAH. If her ACT score had been two points higher she could have gotten a year of room and board at UAH. She also got invited to the Presidential Scholarship Competition at Georgia College. Katy qualifies for Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship, which would cover all but $319 of tuition at Georgia College provided she registered for 15 hours, so anything else would start to cover fees and maybe chip away at room and board. So we went back to Milledgeville for that competition.
However, in the time that had passed Katy did a lot of thinking, reading reviews and asking around and had actually pretty much ruled out Georgia College. She still wanted to compete for the scholarship, you don’t want to turn down any money just in case. And she did win a scholarship. Another girl from her high school was invited and also won something. They were called to the counselor’s office at their high school for a big presentation.
We all really started having second thoughts after that second trip to Milledgeville. The school is really good, we really like the program, the focus on liberal arts, the way classes are conducted. But it really seems to be a “suitcase school”. There’s nothing really much in Milledgeville and so many students leave for the weekend. My doctor had three kids go to UGA (and is still grumbling about the cost!) and said the Georgia College students all go to Athens for the weekend. A woman in our Sunday school class said she has neighbors whose two kids went there and really loved it. But she said “now, that you mention it, their cars did seem to be in the driveway on weekends”. And there’s not much opportunity in Milledgeville. UAH has their big internship program plus Huntsville has so much to offer. Rome is a small town but Berry has the Lifeworks program and a lot of neat opportunities beyond the classroom. Georgia College will provide a good education but there didn’t seem to be anything else. Also, Katy wants to go to a place where she can really feel like she has a home. Join a church, be involved in the community, and not just go to school and then come home or go somewhere else on the weekends. So as much as she liked the school itself, the overall environment just wasn’t what she was looking for.
So now she’s down to Berry and UAH. This was a really difficult decision. She’ll get a good education at either school but they are both so different. As I put it, her choices were “rockets in Huntsville or deer in Rome”. The deer to student ratio at Berry is about eight to one. Her friend Jenna was colossally unhelpful by saying she would pick rockets over deer but Georgia over Alabama. The rest of her friends were Team Berry.
Katy was able to make a second trip to each of the those two schools. She was able to spend the night in the dorm, go to class (two at UAH), eat in the cafeteria and just get a real feel for what the campus is like. One thing she noted about UAH was how nice everyone was. The students in the classes, plus the people she passed between buildings saying hello to her. She said her favorite part was just being able to walk around by herself and figure things out.
So last night Katy and I sat down at the table with papers and pencils. We each made out a pros and cons lists for each school, with Heath throwing in his opinion, and then compared lists. With academics being about equal it really came down to what kind of environment she wanted. UAH, first off, has a housing and parking shortage. She would live in the honors dorm, which is close by everything so that’s not too bad but if she wanted to live elsewhere it might be tricky. The dorms are all what they are a calling “suite style”, which is a small apartment with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small kitchen and living area.
Katy and some of our tour group hanging out in the living room area of a model suite at UAH. This particular suite was “brought to you by Bed, Bath and Beyond”.
Katy was really worried she would end up spending all of her time in her little room and not really get out much. She really would prefer a more traditional type dorm where there’s more interaction with residents between having a roommate, a community bathroom and community areas of the dorm. She says “I need forced interaction.” And for only being four hours away, Huntsville really isn’t that easy to get to. Her “cons” list for UAH was really short but she’s just doesn’t think she’d be happy with the whole living aspect. Although Huntsville itself is probably a pretty nice place to live. UAH isn’t huge at just under 10,000 students and Katy said the two classes she visited weren’t really all that big but she was still feeling she might get a little lost in the crowd. One big pro for UAH is that they record every class and upload the videos to their system. That way you can go back and listen to something you didn’t quite catch the first time or if you missed a class, you could watch it rather than depending on notes from a friend. Katy really liked that.
Berry she feels would be a better living environment. As a freshman she’d be in a traditional dorm right near the main area of campus. Later on she might want to live in the cottages or townhouses that are a little further away. Berry does not have an honors dorm, but it’s such a small school there’s really not a need for any type of “theme” housing, although there is housing for special programs such as Year of Service. She also loves the work program. Your first semester you get assigned a job based on your interests, after that you get more of a choice She could be a lab assistant and come out of college with a lot of experience in her field (if she doesn’t change her major) or she could do something totally different. Her supervisor at the vet clinic had a friend who went to Berry. She didn’t care much for her major after all, but her job was sewing costumes for the theater department and now she works in the costume department at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. So there’s some chances to try different things. It also has a smaller student body and the community feeling that she’s looking for. There are so many ways to be involved on campus and in Rome and it’s a place she would really enjoy living. With its roots as a boarding school, it has retained that community feel where everyone lives, works and plays together. Plus you can borrow camping equipment and go camping on the grounds!
So next August, Katy will be entering the Gate of Opportunity.