"Too Apologetic: An Open Letter to a University Admissions Office" by Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscannmom

Too Apologetic: An Open Letter to a University Admissions Office

Author’s note: I started writing this article over three years ago. It’s been sitting in my drafts folder ever since. I have removed all identifying information about the university in question and respectfully request that any comment-box discussion does the same; I am considering forwarding this to the university administration so that they can plan future admissions events with this in mind. But as college-tour season is in full swing, this has been on my mind lately. I wanted to publish it and invite discussion.

When I take a high-school student to visit a Catholic college, I don’t expect the tour guides to genuflect at every statue in the quad. That’s just not reasonable.

It’s also not reasonable for a student tour guide at a Catholic university to stand in the chapel with a group of high-school seniors and their parents and say, “We don’t force religion on you here, except for the 2 or 3 religion classes everyone has to take.”

Why is this university apologizing, through its tour guides, for its Catholic character–a Catholic character which is evident not only in the statues on campus and religious art in the classrooms, but in its huge commitment to community service and in the presence and participation of an impressive number of Religious who are not only professors but also administrators, counselors, support staff, and (in some cases) dormitory dwellers?

Doing so weakens the very foundation upon which Catholic education is built. Excuses should never be made for offering religion classes, community-service opportunities and religious services or for encouraging students to take part in them.

Perhaps our tour guide, who was quite competent in the art of giving a tour and in her knowledge of the University, its history, and what it offers, was acting on her own when she made this statement. I certainly hope that this is the case, because I would hate to think that a university with a long history of Catholic character and community service that encompasses all the corporal and spiritual works of mercy would deliberately downplay the very character that makes the University stand out among the other institutions of higher learning in the same city.

The University’s Catholic character is to be celebrated, not swept under the chapel rug. No one expects the University to force religion down its students’ throats, but neither should you pretend that it is not an important part of both academic and community life there.

"Too Apologetic: An Open Letter to a University Admissions Office" by Barb Szyszkiewicz @franciscannmom
NOTE: This campus image is deliberately not from the college described in this article. Photo via Pixabay (2011), CC0 Public Domain.


This month I’m joining all the cool kids in the #Write31Days adventure! I didn’t pick a keyword or a theme, because just getting something written for all 31 days is challenge enough for me right now.

Packing the Kids off to College? 20 Packing Do’s and Don’ts

Note: I originally published this article 4 years ago at a shopping website where I worked at the time. In order to make it easier to share this information with family and friends, I’m reposting it here, in slightly updated form.

University freshmen often experience “packer’s remorse” after arriving at the dorm on Move-In Day and discovering that they can’t fit all their stuff into their half of a closet-sized room.  A  group of experienced college students offered advice on the best things to bring—and what to leave at home.  All agreed that it’s better to rely on multi-purpose devices rather than a bunch of separate, single-purpose items.

Leave It Behind:

  • Alarm clock.  Every sophomore I spoke to mentioned this—who needs an alarm clock when you’ve got a cell phone?alarm-clock-300x300
  • Luggage.  Send it home with your folks after they drop you off.  All you’ll need is a small duffel for weekends off.  Those big suitcases take up plenty of space!
  • An umbrella.  No one carries umbrellas.  They just put up the hood of their sweatshirt and tough it out.
  • 50% of your wardrobe.  Even the girls agreed that they didn’t wear all the stuff they brought with them—not even those cute shoes!  They decided to pack smarter this year, bringing fewer clothes.  And students who plan to be involved in sports or school activities will be collecting plenty of FREE T-shirts, so don’t bring too many of those either.  What clothes DO you need plenty of?  Survey says:  socks and underwear.
  • Your CD and DVD collection.  Add all your music to your computer, phone or MP3 player and bring a good set of small speakers.  That’s all you’ll need.  For movies, sign up for a streaming service like Netflix and watch them on your computer.
  • Your book collection.  Chances are good that your university takes great pride in its well-stocked library.  Bring the books you know you’ll need and a couple for recreational reading—you won’t have time to do much of that anyway.  Or use an e-reader, iPad or tablet to keep a big library in a small space.
  • Prohibited items.  Most universities don’t allow you to bring candles, incense, toasters, hot plates, amplifiers and weapons—among other things.  Check your school’s policy before you pack.

Your Mileage May Vary:

  • Desk lampclip-on-lamp-300x300Many students don’t study at their desks.  A better bet is a clip-on lamp that can be attached to your headboard, or a floor lamp if you’re not using bunk beds.
  • TV.  At least wait until you know if your roommate is bringing one.  You may be able to watch many of your favorite shows on your laptop or tablet with an online-streaming service.
  • Storage units.  Until you know what kind of storage space is in your room, it’s best to defer buying these.  Sign up for Amazon Student and get free Prime shipping for 6 months.  You can find storage items at a great price and they’ll be delivered to your dorm in just a couple of days.

Don’t Leave Home Without It:

  • Ethernet cable, and make it a long one.  While most campuses have WiFi, it hasn’t always made it to the dorms.
  • Surge-protecting power strips for all your electronics.  Along with those network cables, campus stores charge a premium for these, so bring one more than you think you’ll need.
  • Flip-flops for the shower.   Just because you have to share a bathroom doesn’t mean you want your dorm-mates to share athlete’s foot with you.  Buy these now before they disappear with the rest of the summer items.
  • Earplugs.  Whether it’s shutting out a snoring roommate, city traffic or noisy neighbors, earplugs can save your sanity by helping you get much-needed shut-eye.
  • Air fresheners.  Even if your room doesn’t smell, you’ll find that odors from the neighbors can find their way in.  And a few strategically-placed air fresheners can go a long way toward combating the Smelly Roommate problem.gummy-vitamins-150x150
  • Multivitamins.  Get the “gummi bear” kind if you want, or bring a bottle of Flintstones; you’ll need to do something to supplement your diet of Lucky Charms, ramen noodles, and pizza.
  • Fan.  Climate control in dorms leaves a lot to be desired.  Even in winter, things can get stuffy.  In spring and fall, weather in the dorms can be downright oppressive!  Keep the fresh air moving with a small oscillating fan.
  • Mattress pad.  Egg-crate pads covered by a mattress protector do wonders for those thin, lumpy dorm mattresses.
  • Clear storage bin for your food. Make sure this has a tight, secure closure to keep mice and insects out of your Cap’n Crunch.
  • Tools of the trade.  Small screwdrivers, pliers, a can opener, scissors and a first-aid kit don’t take up a lot of room, but they’ll definitely get used.

Communicate with your roommate and decide on who’s bringing what, in terms of the big stuff like refrigerators.  Coordinated bed linens mean much less in the scheme of things than actually having space to live in your limited living space!

Image 1 Credit, Image 2 Credit, Image 3 Credit

College Tours: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

We recently kicked off College Tour Season 3. Season 1 was 4 years ago, in the fall, with Big Brother. Season 2 was this summer with Middle Sister, and she has a whole new set of schools she wants to visit this fall (as well as two repeat visits and one interview). I’ve attended all the tours to date, and there’s only one I’ll be missing this fall. All these tours have taught me a few things about how universities put their best–and worst–feet forward.

All the DOs and DON’Ts listed below are things I have personally seen happen. Some of them happened at more than one university. I won’t “tag” the schools that are DON’Ts, but I do want to give credit where due to the DOs.

If you’re a Catholic school:

DON’T stand in the chapel with a group of high-school seniors and their parents and say, “We don’t force religion on you here, except for the 2 or 3 religion classes everyone has to take.”

seton hallDO invite your tour group to visit the chapel; give your speech outside the chapel and let people who wish to see it go inside and visit it quietly so as not to disturb those who are inside praying, and mention the availability of Campus Ministry’s worship opportunities for people of all faiths. (Nicely done, Seton Hall!)

If the weather is inclement:

DON’T wander your tour in circles all over campus, passing the same building three or four times and almost never going inside.

holy family universityDO route your tour through as many buildings as possible and provide plenty of ice-cold water bottles at the start and finish of tours on hot summer days. (Way to go, Holy Family!)

If you have a really big campus:

DON’T group your tours according to the students’ projected major and then tell your group that you can’t take them to see ANY of the buildings in their major because they’re “not within walking distance.” But you’ll be happy to put them on a campus bus with no tour guide so they can wander around in the buildings without guidance.

DON’T hand out a visitor’s parking pass for a lot as far as possible from the Admissions Office. That’s where the tour should start. Visitors shouldn’t already be tired when they get there.

widener logoDO offer a major-specific Open House date so students can get plenty of information from faculty and students in their chosen academic area. (Props to Widener!)

When you tour the dorms:

DON’T avoid the buildings where most freshmen live, choosing to pass it and drag the whole tour group to a faraway point on campus so they can see the newest, spiffiest dorm with all the bells and whistles, and then informing them that it’ll be at least two years before they get to live in it because they have to be upperclassmen to get a room in there.

DON’T take Saturday-morning tours through the Party Dorm. Just don’t. Trust me on this one.

The way to a student’s heart is through the stomach:

DO provide refreshments to people arriving for a campus tour. Many of them have been traveling for hours to see your school. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; water bottles, coffee, and cookies are most welcome. (Thanks, LaSalle and Holy Family!)

DO offer a voucher for a meal in the dining hall. It’s nice for prospective students (and their parents) to get a taste of what’s offered. (Much appreciated, Widener!)

It’s the little things:

DON’T send out a student-led tour group without a short greeting from an Admissions staffer or someone from Student Affairs. We went through one entire tour without hearing a word from anyone other than the student worker who showed us around.

wculogoDO give visiting students a discount coupon to use in the campus store. (Nice touch, West Chester!)

arcadiaDO offer to waive the application fee for students who attend Open House events. (Good job, Arcadia!)

For the record:  some of these experiences took place 4 years ago, but my opinion still stands. I plan to update this as College Tour Season continues.


Parenting 101, College Tour Edition

Call this the Summer of the College Tour. We did one last week, one today, and have one scheduled for tomorrow and one next week. And that’s not all! I’m sure there will be more when Middle Sister does a little more research into the schools she might want to attend.campus_tour750

She’s approaching this very differently than Big Brother did. Of course, none of my kids ever approaches anything the same way a sibling does. It’s different every time. I have to keep remembering that.

There are other things I have to remember too, like letting her “digest” the day before quizzing her on whether she liked the school rather than starting in on the interrogation the second we get back into the car.

Today’s tour was easier than last week’s tour, because Little Brother is at camp this week. So we don’t have an 11-year-old tagging along, vacillating between total boredom (can we go HOME now?) and complete excitement (a basketball court! a soccer field! comfy chairs! donuts! where do I sign?) with a little greed thrown in (how come I don’t get a free pen? can we go to the bookstore so I can buy a T-shirt? how about a sweat shirt?)

I worry about how things will go when Middle Sister leaves the nest. I worry about her college choice–I don’t know what she wants, and I’m not sure she does either. I think she’s operating on the “I’ll know it when I see it” rule of thumb, but what she sees and what I see are often two very different things. And we can’t visit every college in the USA that offers her major until she sees it (and knows it.)

I’m patting myself on the back for the remarkable restraint I displayed today. I only said 3, maybe 4, good things about the university we visited today on the way home in the car. I did not gush, and I tried not to lecture.

As to the whole “knowing it when she sees it” approach, is that a good idea when she may not get accepted (or get enough financial aid) to attend her first choice school? If she falls in love with a place and then can’t go, any other place is just not going to do it for her.

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they were to eat, where they were to sleep, or what they were to wear. He’s got a point, but then again, he never had a 17-year-old daughter going off to college next year. That’s a whole different level of worry right there.

But I Switched to Decaf (well, Half-Caff, anyway)

I was having a really good (and quite productive) morning. By 10:30 AM I’d started laundry, hung one load on the line, had some “prayer and coffee” time, made my to-do list for the day, set up the kids’ chore schedule for the week, and gone to Mass, the bakery and the supermarket.8046b-michelesplanners

Then I got home and started working the phones and the planner.

I needed to call the soccer camp where we’d just registered Little Brother to clear up a few questions (such as why I’d never received an email confirming his registration, for starters).

I called the pediatrician to schedule Little Brother’s physical.

I called my gynecologist to make an appointment for my mother-in-law, who has dementia and needs to see a gynecologist (but can’t remember who her GYN is or when she last saw that doctor).

I scheduled 4 college visits in the next 3 weeks for Middle Sister.

And then I couldn’t settle down. I was so agitated that I couldn’t sit here and write. I’m having a hard time writing this, actually. I can’t get calm.

I decided to run over to the GYN’s office and pick up the new-patient packet that needs to be filled out before the appointment. Then I went to the Carter’s store to get a baby gift for my cousin’s little girl who’s being christened this weekend.

Driving home, I was still agitated and really wondering what the problem is. I’d had 2 cups of coffee today, but one was half-caff and the other decaf. Yet I feel like I’ve had a whole pot of high-test.

Then I thought about how I spent my morning. Phone calls, scheduling of appointments and college visits and other things that are going to be unsettling at the very least–no wonder I’m agitated. Anxiety is in high gear right now.

And there will be no more coffee for this mama today.


Now that graduation’s out of the way, Big Brother and I are heading over to LaSalle on Monday for orientation. Yes–this early. That’s good, I guess; it will help me to get his shopping list together.

It’s been a long time since I went to college–almost 30 years–yikes. And students’ needs have changed in those 30 years. So if you have any kids in college or have recently been there yourself, what are some things he’ll need–or need to ask about?

So far on my list to find out:
–what stores are in the shopping center across the street from campus? I know there’s a branch of the bank that we use at home, so that makes cash-flow stuff easy. I think there’s a drugstore, some sort of supermarket, and a few others.
–twin sheets, or twin XL?
–does his cell phone work in the college buildings? (Does anyone’s? Do we need to switch providers?)
–what furniture is provided in each dorm room?
–does he need his own tp, cleaning supplies, etc?
–does he need his own printer for his laptop? Or are there school printers around for student use? If so, how does that work?
–what cooking items are allowed in the dorms? What ones are available for common use?

And I’ve got Barbara‘s pack-for-college list to work from, so that’s a big help.