It is a long-established ritual for the American family to go on a road trip with their high school senior to visit colleges as he or she decides where to apply for the following year. Road trip! The process often involves a lot of stress on the part of the student -- Will I get into my dream school? Will I get in anywhere? -- and for parents trying to be as helpful as possible. The best approach is to enjoy the experience, since there are lots of great colleges and universities and there is always going to be one that’s a good fit for each student.
The family will pack up the station wagon, SUV, hybrid vehicle, or whatever, and set off on a carefully planned itinerary, often for about a week during the summer break or the fall. Since most college applications are due around January 1, there is plenty of time to think about choices, to dream.
There are college presentations at each campus for all the high school seniors (and often their little brothers and sisters) and their parents, with the parents sometimes nudging the student to ask a question in the hope that she will be noticed by the admissions officers. Not only do you learn about the academic programs and the basics of student life, but also about the history of the college and the often fascinating local history.
The road trip can be in any part of the country -- West Coast, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, Midwest -- because there are great schools all over. One route I find particularly fun, especially in the fall, takes you from Washington, DC due north through Pennsylvania into Upstate New York, then across Vermont and New Hampshire into Massachusetts. This route passes through stunning parts of rural America in the middle of the autumn colors if you are lucky, and you can easily explore early American history, particularly of the Colonial Period, the Revolutionary War, and of the powerful Native-American tribes that lived there.
Here are some photographs of college campuses from this region, but I could show you many, many more. One campus that I found really impressive was Cornell University, one of the world's great academic institutions, located in a very rural part of Upstate New York, five hours' drive to Manhattan. I am in awe of those who founded this college in the 19th century, building the institution on solid granite so far away from a large city. With the beautiful Finger Lakes next door, you can enjoy fine wine from the region while you plan your next day's itinerary.
I hope many Japanese will have the chance to enjoy a college road trip, even if you are just looking for an excuse to explore some of the most beautiful and interesting parts of the United States.
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