Thursday, April 22, 2010

The “College Game”

For the second day in a row, I’ve gone to respond to someone’s blog and couldn’t keep my comments short.  Yesterday, it was Emily from Mothers of Brothers.  Today, it’s Terry from First Day of the Rest of My Life.

Terry's oldest is going through the college application process, and Terry is struggling with the chaos of it all and hating the pressure.  You can read much of the history on her blog.  Like holding my kids, this is a subject I feel very strongly about.  Despite the degree on my wall from U.C. Berkeley, one of the top universities in my field, I don’t encourage my kids to attend a major university fresh out of High School.

When I was deciding what college to attend, I didn't play the game the way the schools wanted me to.  My family has deep, deep roots in Berkeley and the SF bay area.  At the time, there had been someone in my family either working at or attending the University of California, Berkeley, since the day it opened (I’m not sure this is still true, but I’m not sure it’s not, so I’ll leave it as phrased).  Both my parents have degrees from U.C. Berkeley.  Much of my family is still in the city of Berkeley and the surrounding areas.  To this day, my grandmother owns a house 6 blocks off campus.

There was only ONE school I had any desire to attend, therefore I didn't apply anywhere else.

I got turned down.

I was crushed.


There was some screw-up with my SAT scores.  I had to go to ETS and fight to get scores at all, and in the end the scores I was told were mine just couldn’t be … they only added up to 1150 or so, and the English was higher than the Math (If you know me, that last part is a dead giveaway … NO WAY … I got a perfect 5 on my AP Calculus test that same year, so no chance I scored a measly 500ish on the math portion of my SAT … but I digress).  I must have been hard to live with, but I didn't care at the time.

So, after shedding many tears, and much of my dignity, I went to a Junior College.  I chose Chabot College in Hayward.  It was 45 minutes away from home.  I chose it for several reasons.  First, it was a drop dead gorgeous campus that reminded me a lot of where I wanted to be.  It was also far enough away from home that nobody I knew would be there to see my embarrassment, but close enough to commute to while living at home.  Supposedly they had a Berkeley Transfer lock-in program that I could apply for that would guarantee me to eventually get where I wanted to be.

Because of a counseling faux-pas, I missed the transfer program.  Coming out of Chabot, I was turned down for Berkeley again.  After talking to a UC counselor, it was decided that I should take a year off and work rather than apply elsewhere, as transfer students from other four year universities get lesser priority than transfers from 2 year colleges.  So, I taught Jr High and High School at the now defunct Spraings Academy, a school for children with learning disabilities.

I finally did get into UC.  In the end, I spent 3 years at Chabot, 1 teaching, and 3 at Berkeley.  It was a WONDERFUL experience!

When I got to Berkeley, my sister was already a Sophomore there (she got accepted her first year), so it was easy to compare my education with what she was going through.  With very few exceptions, I had both a broader and deeper understanding of the topics our studies had in common.  By going to the Jr College, I had received a better education than I would have at the major university.  This was because of the pace Berkeley sets for classes … you really don’t have the time to get a good understanding of something before it’s time to move on.  Also, it’s easier to learn in a class of 30-50 than in a class of 100, 300, or god forbid 700 students.

I taught lower division Programming at Berkeley, as a TA for 2 of my 3 years, and once as a guest lecturer (i.e. fake professor) after graduating.  In none of those cases did I have the time to teach my students what I really thought they should know.  There were 200 of them in the class I lectured for ... 200 !?  How could I possibly keep up?

The time that major universities shine is graduate work.  From an adult perspective, these schools are PHD machines.  The PHDs are what give the school notoriety.  Those students are the ones that get attention.  Anything less than that is often viewed as a waste of a professor’s time.

I met some wonderful people at Chabot who I keep in touch with to this day.  My year teaching was the same … I have recently been trading emails with one of my former students and may soon end up working with him.  I also met some great people at Berkeley as well, both professors and fellow students.  I’m glad of ALL the experiences.  Today, I look back and am glad of all the disappointing rejection letters, because without those I would have missed out on getting to know some of the people that most influenced who I am today.

So … In response to Terry’s question of how to handle it:  The computer in the movie WarGames said it best:
A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.
                                  -- Joshua (WOPR)
                                     WarGames, 1983
You can't win the game ... College has become more and more of a meat-grinder since we attended.  My best advice: Don't play.  Take your time, get a good grounding at a Jr College, and then transfer in.  It will NOT affect your post-graduate applications, be they for graduate work or industry work, because your degree is just as valid as everyone else’s.

I wish Terry’s son all the luck in the world, whatever decision he makes.  You’ll survive and be just fine.  Try to have fun while you’re doing it!

        aka: goofdad


terry said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your sage advice. I will make my son read your post. I will not play. Done. Over.

If he cries, he'll become more resilient. And isn't that what I want as a parent anyway?????

Thanks for caring and being out there.

Mark said...

Now Doug, just because Berkley was going through changes and put a HIPPIE Quota and they maxed out those years you applied.... well you can't really fault them..... LOL

Serious note now, Oregon State University (Greatest University of them ALL) gets a majority of it's grads from transfers from LBCC or other junior colleges from California. NOTHING WRONG WITH IT!!! You are a OSU Grad either way!!!
All young adults reading this, HANG IN THERE. ENJOY THESE YEARS!!! NOT and I mean NOT worth the heart ache...

Citoruen said...

Wonderful post! I started at Cal right out of high school. It was my dad's alma mater and it was a school that none of my older siblings wanted to attend. (We, the siblings, have a habit of doing different things. Not one of us, out of the five, are doing the same career or line of work.)

After three semesters of being a Chem major, sitting in Sproul with about 300 students for math and science courses, 4-5 hour labs, competitive even at the freshman level (why is everyone so serious about making acetylsalicylic acid?), and the real teaching is from the TAs during section, I ended up leaving before getting kicked out.

Went to DeAnza, a little depressed that I didn't make it at UCB, and started picking classes where the subjects interested me ... anthropology, accounting, psychology, and dance. I feel I got a well-rounded education by going to DeAnza than if I had stayed at Berkeley. I graduated from DeAnza and transferred to Chico State, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere that really was conducive for learning despite the "party school" reputation. Finished up with my bachelor's and went to the East Coast to get my masters.

All in all, each educational institution had its pros and cons. I think junior college is a wonderful way to get a good education, find yourself, save money, and then transfer to the university of your choice. College isn't for everyone and I'm not sure what I'll tell my kids when they reach college age, except to trust their decision-making.

Thanks for the memory.

S. K. said...

Hi! also a DeAnza grad. For me, I was so tired of being singled out ("look! she that smart kid from the Manor!" as if it had anything to do with anything) that I loved the anonymity of Cal. Do you remember the ball players in Field of Dreams? That's what it felt like. heaven.
Thanks for the memories.

By the way--rest assured your kids will bloom where they're planted. Mine did.