Wednesday, November 13, 2013

College Visits Part 1: My Old Kentucky Home?

This past weekend was a bit of a milestone. All right, it was a frrrrkin' humongous milestone. My teenage daughter and I visited two colleges.

I don't mean we walked through Harvard Yard to pick up a young friend for lunch. I don't mean we cut across a city campus to go to a concert. We actually visited two separate out-of-state universities for the discreet and specific reason that my daughter might want to go to one of them.

This takes window shopping to a whole new level!

We were planning a trip to Columbus, Ohio to see my dear friend. She and I have been close since freshman year although my daughter might argue that she's even closer, having known my friend since she (my daughter) was just ten days old. Essentially, this woman is my teenager's surrogate aunt and my own "sister from another mother." As usual, we anticipated a great long weekend, filled with the usual restaurants, usual malls, long wooded walks followed by the usual concept coffee drinks at Starbucks. But, my girlfriend had another — unusual — idea.

"Let's drive down to University of Kentucky!"

As you already know if you've been following Lovin' the Alien, my daughter is all about the equine. She started riding when she was five and basically never looked back. She's been competing since she was seven or eight, and we broke down and bought a horse about two years ago. Over the years, I've watched other interests fall by the wayside: gymnastics, dance, swimming, piano lessons (yep, that last one fell hard, kind of like a piano from a New York City rooftop). But the horse thing stuck.

So, I have little doubt that she will carry this obsession ... er, I mean, single-minded focus ... with her as she pursues her higher education. We are only looking at colleges that have equine studies majors, competitive equestrian teams, and an empty stall for Finn, my daughter's constant companion. This diminishes the consideration set, well, considerably. And, as one might guess, the University of Kentucky in Lexington is pretty much the crème de la horse set crème.

I was struck by my girlfriend's prescience of mind (we would, surely, be making that trip at some point), and also by her extreme generosity. I mean, after all, she's already done the college tour circuit, not once but three times. Add to this her husband's game agreement to join us (game might be the operative word here; he was able to schedule a golf game with a Kentucky colleague), and I was truly in their debt. 

We arrived Friday and left their comfortable house at 6:15 Saturday morning. It's about a three-hour trip to Lexington, which they argued wasn't much (seemed like a lot to me). But soon we were in horse country: rolling green hills, crisp white fences, and enough Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses and Arabians to satisfy even my insatiable teen.

The campus was enormous and we happened to get there as what felt like millions of devoted alumni arrived for a big game. While it was a non-stop party all around UK's stadium, the rest of the campus was calm and quiet. Either the students were all at the game or they were all sleeping in (or half were doing each of those things). Although UK is described as an urban campus, it has as many quads and courtyards and clusters of old brick buildings as any New England college. (Plus, I can't help it, I'm a native New Yorker. Downtown Lexington ain't exactly what I call "urban.")

We walked all over, visited the Agricultural College buildings (where my daughter's classroom and research work would take place), stopped into the student center and the bookstore, peeked into dorms and dining halls. We grabbed some diet sodas and headed out of town to UK's equestrian center, a sprawling farm about nine miles from campus. The countryside was simply beautiful, and all my daughter could think of was how her pony would love the acres and acres of grassy paddock space.

Yes, apparently, the horse's happiness is high on her list.

I could tell that my daughter was impressed, that she was starting to do what must be the most important part of this whole college visit process: she was imagining herself here. What really sealed the deal was a fifteen-minute conversation with two students, who happened to be working at a suburban tack store on our way to lunch. One was a biology major, but competed on three different equestrian teams. The other was in the equine studies academic program. They had great things to say about the school, the coaches, the area, the students. They tried to sell my daughter a $1,400 saddle. She turned to me with hope in her eyes.

I politely declined. After all, I'll be paying her college tuition in a couple of years. And now, it seems, I may also be paying for my own trips to see her. In Kentucky.

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