The woman at the college fair walked over to me with some hesitation. The fair had been open for about thirty minutes, and we were just beginning to welcome the first of 50 busses that would bring nearly 2000 students from four counties to meet with 120 colleges.
She could see all that when she approached me, and to be honest, I may have been checking e-mail on my phone when the conversation started. As I remember, it went something like this:
“Are you in charge of the fair?” she asked.
“Yes, I am. How can I help you?”
“Well, I read that you only wanted school groups to stay for 90 minutes, and I was wondering if my group could stay a little longer.”
“When were you planning on leaving?”
“Around 11. We came from Rockford, Illinois.”
“Rockford? You came in today?”
At this point, a man broke in. “No, we came yesterday. Left Rockford at 9 Monday morning, got here for the evening session last night, spent the night, and we’re back for the morning session.”
“How long is it to Rockford?”
“About a nine hour drive. By school bus.”
“You know, there’s another college fair about three hours closer to you that starts tomorrow.”
“That one interfered with their spring break” the woman responded.
“And how many students did you bring?”
“10, with three chaperones.”
“Ma’am, please feel free to stay as long as you like.”
The man came back an hour later to tell me what a wonderful opportunity this was for students, but he didn’t really tell me anything his actions hadn’t already expressed. When three adults make a 700 mile round trip by school bus with ten kids to make sure they have a full range of college options, it’s clear they see a college fair as something more than a morning out of school.
I’ve thought about that group of students more than once in the last two weeks, now that college decisions are all out, and students have until May 1 to choose their college. It was an exceptionally unpredictable year in college admissions, with more students applying to top schools than ever before. More applications only means more rejections, leaving more students to wonder what was wrong with their application. Other students get passed that feeling, only to look at the remaining schools and pick one that will work well for them, even if it now feels like a second choice.
That’s when the students of Rockford come to mind. A multi-hour bus ride gave them a chance to consider what college could be, but there was no guarantee any of those 120 colleges would be right for them or even let them in. They took the ride anyway, eager to see what could be, and the ride home gave them a long time to think about what was next.
This year’s seniors are now taking the long ride to May 1, and just like the Rockford students, it’s likely every college they applied to wasn’t right for them or didn’t let them in. It’s hard when a great college runs out of room before they run out of great applicants, but that’s the school’s problem, not the student’s. The great college that said yes appreciates everything about you, and has plenty of room for your talents and dreams to shine. It doesn’t take a nine hour bus trip to see that as the wonderful opportunity it is. You’ve arrived at a wonderful place; it’s time to enjoy the ride.