College Thinking

College Thinking

“Today we visit Keene State College!” our fifth-grade daughter noted on Wednesday this past week.  She was out of bed and dressed in record time, even asking for my approval on her choice of outfits to make sure she was truly ready for this special day.

The fifth graders in Brattleboro’s elementary schools have started a new tradition in this college visit: dreaming

–even planning–for higher education before they have graduated from elementary school. With Keene State being a convenient thirty minutes from our town, it’s the perfect bus ride away.  The fifth grade students spend their day getting a glimpse into a world most of them have not thought about much–if at all.  

It is well received by the kids, and the parents like it, too. As one other mother said to me, “I think this is brilliant.  In fifth grade, there is no way you know what a college is like, unless you have an older sibling.  It’s just a really cool thing they are doing!”

They started with a tour of the campus, fit in some visits to a couple of sections of the school and some meetings with “real life college students”…. and included the most important stop for any budding teenager: the cafeteria.  This part had been widely discussed and was very much anticipated.  “They have all sorts of station-type places, Mom,” our daughter informed us at supper several nights before. “And you can eat as much as you want!  And they have ice cream!  And pizza!  And I don’t know what else, but you can eat AS MUCH AS YOU WANT!”  (Their teacher confirmed this fact, noting with some degree of embarrassment that they seem capable of putting away tremendous quantities of food on that day in particular.)  

This year, according to the reports I heard back at least, the displays off of a three-D printer and a remote controlled device on someone’s arm ended up being stars of the show.  “Each of us had to pick out a field that we might want to study,” she explained.  “I liked seeing how the guy worked with the robot thing.  But I don’t think I want to do that.

“I thought, maybe, I would rather do something in music, like be a music teacher?  Or maybe I could study Spanish? That might be fun.”  

These were new careers she had not discussed before, and they  certainly had changed from her long-held goal of being a cashier somewhere.  Although, to be fair, that desire was somewhat squelched at the self-check-out line at Price Chopper.  After about ten minutes of pure frustration–on both our parts, we ended up in the regular check-out anyway.  (“That wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be,” she had commented that day.)

Oddly enough, in the past week, we have also been planning “real” college visits–for the high school junior in our family.  He is our first–and he is closely followed by a freshman, who we encourage to take full advantage of his brother’s visits to help him make his own decisions.  My sister works at a college campus, and the two of them went together to a lacrosse camp there a couple of summers ago.

We also have stopped in at several universities while driving across country.  We’ve figured these stops are great for all: they are safe places to stretch our legs, my sister does a bit of research on how other colleges are set up, and the kids get a chance to see them.. Last summer, on a complete whim, I decided to stop in at Cornell in Ithaca.  “It’s a beautiful campus,” I said as I sold the car on this idea. On an picture-perfect, blue-sky summer day, we slowly wandered through gardens and classroom buildings… sought out the scenic overlooks and suspension bridges… admired their stadiums and facilities….

As we left this idyllic (but non-official) visit, the oldest son started quoting stats from his phone: “Their acceptance rate is about 8%.  Their engineering school is ranked among the best in the nation.  It costs about $55,000 a year to go to school here.”  

His brother chose that moment to chime in, “Yay, I like it too.  This would be a cool place to go.”

I don’t believe I stifled the gasp as I calculated the totals for four years for two kids.  We are nearly a year later now, and Cornell is still on his list.  

With April vacation coming up, we are planning out our first “official” visit, this one to a college closer by.  I suspect that we will, again, stroll through gardens and classroom buildings….seek out the scenic overlooks (no suspension bridges around here that I know of)… admire their stadium and facilities (we are hopeful of finding a lacrosse practice we might watch)…

This impending passage into the next stage of education has caused some serious conversations with friends. .  Is a college education worth the price of a house?  What did I get out of college?  What should our children expect?  What’s it going to do for them?  What will they do with it?

It’s step one on a new journey for us all.


Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools, at the high school and elementary school levels.  She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment and the Brattleboro Town School Board.  She is also a member of the Study Committee for Act 46. Contact her at


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