Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Choosing a College

The family has begun to disperse. My 10-year old Julia with my father has flown to America to go to camp there. I just put my wife and 8-year old Benjamin onto a plane for Finland, where he is attending camp.

We then travelled to the UK. Sam went to see Wimbledon. While he couldn’t get a ticket for central court, he did manage to buy one for the grounds and he saw under 18s compete in the junior event. This impressed Sam. Before picking up golf, he loved tennis and showed real talent. He just disliked the “boxing” aspect of the sport and felt too much pressure to pummel his opponent. So he turned to golf. At Wimbledon, he was amazed to see kids his own age smash forehands and backhands. He was also surprised to see one of his old Belgian adversaries, Arthur de Greef, competing. “Impressive,” he said afterward. Later in the week, he picked up a racquet for the first time in several years and enjoyed rallying with me.

The main reason for the trip across the English Channel was to show Oxford and Cambridge to Sam. His college hunt is intensifying. He must choose between staying in Europe, probably in England or Scotland, or going to the United States.

It’s a tough choice. He would prefer the U.S.. But as a founding member of the Yale Club of Belgium, I know that not a single applicant from here has gotten into Yale in the past decade. The SATs represent a Mount Everest for European-schooled children not used to taking multiple choice tests. Sam struggled on the English part. Plus, is his golf good enough? For Yale, certainly. But for a top golf school like Duke? That’s not so sure. And finally, American schools cost $50,000 a year.

In contrast, European universities are close to free (Scottish universities charge no tuition). If Sam cannot attend a top-flight American institution, this might be a better choice. Oxford and Cambridge both hold open days at the beginning of July. Both put on impressive shows. At a UK university, students apply in one specific course. Sam still is not sure what he wants to specialize in, so he’s looking at a generalist course in geography, which embraces everything from environmental science and geology to the way to design housing projects in order to reduce crime. Sam was fascinated to hear geography professors describe their course.

We met with the Oxford Golf captain, an impressive, articulate young man who spoke with enthusiasm about the club’s adventures playing the best courses in the UK, including all the British Open course. But Sam was not convinced. The captain played only to a four handicap and practiced only once a week. With the heavy course load at Oxford, he didn’t have more time for the sport. “This is social golf,” Sam said afterward.

In a couple of weeks time, we will travel to Scotland and look at St. Andrews and Edinburgh. Both offer excellent courses in geography. Sam hopes the golf will be more serious.

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