Choosing the Right College
Choosing the Right College
It was only a few short years ago that my daughter Nicole was applying to colleges, and it was a very stressful time in our house.
Trying to find the “right” place for her was very difficult, and one of the biggest choices was whether to attend a school with a large LGBTQ community or one with a small LGBTQ community, much like her high school.
Nicole was unsure of what she wanted to study and didn’t quite know where she wanted to go—big university, small liberal arts college, city campus, rural campus…she really had no idea. I kept telling her, “When you find the right place, you’ll know it.” A friend who was a college counselor suggested that she consider Smith College, a small women’s college in western Massachusetts with a great academic reputation. At the very last possible minute, Nicole applied to Smith and said, “I will think about it.” Nicole was hesitant; she knew that as a women’s college, Smith had many LGBTQ students. At that time, Nicole was only out to a small group of people, and the thought of going to Smith and confronting her sexuality made her so uncomfortable.
One by one, Nicole received acceptance letters to the many schools she had applied to, including Smith. It was confusing. She would go and visit her top choices and see what they felt like. After each visit, she would always find something wrong with each school. “This one is too big, this one is too cold, this one is too close to home”; none of them felt quite right. So far, all the schools we had visited had very small LGBTQ communities even though the schools were bigger. To Nicole, it felt like it could be just like high school again. Would this be comfortable and safe? Would this be frustrating and lonely? After a few long discussions, she finally decided she would visit Smith and give it a try. This was the last overnight of the 11 that she’d applied to. We listened to the opening remarks and toured around campus. About halfway through our tour, Nicole turned to me and said, “Mom, this one is it! I love it here. The kids are great, the academics feel right, and it’s beautiful. I want to come here!” We both started to cry. I kept saying that she would just know when it felt right, and finally it did.
While visiting Smith, we listened to Smith graduate and feminist Gloria Steinem speak about her experiences there. She was such an inspirational woman to listen to. I sat in the room listening intently to every word, so happy that Nicole had decided that Smith was the place for her. But sitting there, I thought to myself: “Would it be a good idea to send my gay daughter to an all girls’ school with such a large LGBTQ community?” A place like Smith is not quite representative of the “real world.” Would it force Nicole to come out before she was really ready? Would it be so different than what she was used to that it would be too uncomfortable? Would this make it more difficult for her when she graduated? My head was filled with questions and concerns. My questions were answered almost immediately, as another mom stood up and asked, “Do you really think that sending our daughters to an all girls school that is so open is a good idea? Won’t it make it more difficult for her to find her way in the real world? Will it give her a false sense of security?” Gloria responded, “I feel strongly that this is the place for your daughter and other girls as well. It is a place where your daughter may enter as a timid, uncomfortable teen, but will leave as a strong, secure woman. This will in turn give her the strength and confidence to face adversity in the real world.”
As Nicole majors in the Study of Women and Gender and immerses herself in the Smithie community, she still struggles with who she is, who she wants to be, and how she will make her mark in this world. But every day that passes, I see her becoming more comfortable in her own skin and more confident in everything that she does. Not only am I sure that an all women’s college was the right choice for her…so is she!
Now looking back, I see what factors were really important in choosing a school. Being at a college where Nicole felt like she fit in and not being afraid to be who she is were some of the most important factors in choosing a school. Now, she is finally at a place where she feels comfortable enough to excel and grow. When Nicole graduates, I know she will be a stronger and more confident woman, a woman who happens to be gay, but will be ready to face this ever-changing world that we live in.
Lisa is a mother, wife, music therapist, and part-time teacher. She currently teaches music and cooking to children at various preschools and libraries. She also teaches piano to children where she focuses on the love of music and sharing it with others. In her spare time, she loves to travel, scrapbook, and make music with her two teenage daughters.