Don't like your daughter's choice of college? Take a trip there.

"It's big, it's hot, it's far," I told our daughter as she announced that a certain university out west was the "perfect" school for her.

The occasion was Christmas Day during her junior year of high school. Curled up on the sofa, she leafed through one of her presents, a guide to colleges. This, however, was not just a guide written by the folks at Lovejoy's or Barrons, but rather one written by college kids who knew what to point out to prospective students.

Despite the obvious drawbacks, our child of New England was captivated by descriptions of sunbathing between classes, riding in open-topped cars, and endless rounds of parties. The only thing that interfered with this idyllic existence was classes.

To our fun-loving child, no atmosphere could be more perfect.Finally, a whole school of kids who thought as she did.What could be sweeter?

In the months that followed, we tried our best to disillusion her, but it was readily apparent that this was one of those parenting

situations when all our talk, our powers of reason and persuasion, fell on deaf ears. She was all set to enroll.

It was time for a reality check, we decided. So that summer between her junior and senior years, we planned a family vacation to Arizona.

We flew nonstop from Boston to Phoenix, a five-hour flight. As the plane landed, she commented, "This is a long trip." (Yes! Reality was slowly beginning to take hold.)

We timed our visit so that we would be on campus the first day of classes, which that year was mid-August.

Guess what our daughter quickly discovered? Arizona in August - dry heat or not - is scorching.The thermometer peaked at 118 degrees F. while we were there, and during the day did not drop below 112 degrees.

Our daughter doesn't like to sweat. I leave you to draw your own conclusion regarding her reaction.

With two of our three objections dealt with, we proceeded onto campus.

Yes, it was beautiful, but the school enrolls some 32,000 undergraduates and has a total enrollment of about 49,000, all of whom seemed to be on campus at the same time.

As the clock struck noon, we came to the Student Union, and I suggested we go in and see what types of meals the school offered.

I don't know when I've ever seen so many people trying to go through one doorway as that day at the Student Union.

As we joined the throngs and made a feeble attempt to get into the building, a small voice was heard announcing, "I don't think this is the school for me. It's so-o-o big!"

As the third domino fell, my husband and I looked at one another and smiled.

Sometimes you have to let your kids find out for themselves that mom and dad really do know best.

Epilogue: Our daughter went through the college visit and application process with her eyes opened wider than they would have been had we not visited.

She ended up at a school in the South - where it is hot, but not too hot; far enough from home to let her spread her wings, but close enough so visits are manageable; and just big enough so that she sees lots of different kids, but not so big that she's lost in the shuffle. She is happily completing her junior year.

Diane Hayden is a mother of two and lives in Simsbury, Conn.

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting experiences, send an e-mail to home@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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