In this guest blog, high school student Lily Shenk describes her experience visiting colleges across the Northeast with Forster-Thomas co-founders Evan Forster and David Thomas (AKA Auntie E and Uncle D). 

I recently went on a college tour with Auntie Evan and Uncle David, where we spent three days visiting Roger Williams University, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Northeastern University, Wheaton College, Marist College, and Vassar College.

For as long as I can remember, my Mom and her BFF Auntie Evan have been talking about where I would go to school and what I would do with my life. The arguments would go like this:

“She’s an artist!” Auntie Evan would exclaim.

“But I don’t want her ending up poor!” Mama would yell back.

And somewhere in between, Uncle David would gently mention my love of marine life, animals, biology, and then something about “liberal arts”—whatever that was. But try to get a word in when Auntie Evan and Mama are in what I like to call “arguing-while-drinking” mode—impossible.

I love animals and sea life, but in my heart and in my hands, I am an artist and a craftsperson, so I was most excited to see RISD. That’s where I was sure I could express who I truly am.

Auntie Evan and Uncle D picked me up at LaGuardia Airport and we drove late into the night, straight to Rhode Island. The following morning, after avoiding the lovely do-it-yourself waffle at the Holiday Inn Express, we arrived at Roger Williams University (RWU) for my first real info session and college tour. I had no idea what to anticipate, except that my uncles promised me that it had art and marine biology. And they promised my mother that this could lead to environmental law. (Law school is one of Uncle David’s strengths. Auntie Evan’s is knowing how to say what Mama needs to hear.)

I thought RWU was going to be my least favorite college on our tour, but that quickly changed. RWU had a really cool wet lab, roomy dorms, a great campus, a convenient location, and a welcoming student body; while we were on the tour, Auntie Evan and I broke off and went into the wet lab (AKA a marine biology lab) and one of the students working there—a Graphic Design minor—even invited us in and showed us around. Cuttlefish and pregnant Clownfish—and the students, right from freshman year, get to do research! Love that! I also liked that it was only an hour outside Boston and thirty minutes from either Providence or Newport, RI. Bristol was a typical cute New England town on the water, which is an environment I like. The point is that it had everything, and with my strong B+ average, I might even get some money to attend. Mama loves that. As for me, I never would’ve thought RWU would be my thing, but there it all was. It had everything I want to study: Art and marine life!

Still, I figured RISD would win out. That afternoon, we drove to Providence. It’s beautimus and I love a small city, but right from the start I realized RISD is 100% art—and I am just not an Art-ster. So, while I was sure it would be my favorite school, after visiting, I’m not sure I’ll even apply. It would be a great school for anyone who wants art—and only art. At least that’s how I saw it. In all honesty, it was just too edgy for me. I realized that art is not all that I am interested in, and frankly, the students I met were standoffish and thought they were better than me; I’m a damn good artist and I can hold my own when it comes to drawing free-hand, crocheting, felting, or sculpting. And I’m sure the RISD kids are too, but they were just not me. I’m never going to wear tie-dye, Birkenstocks, or smoke cigarettes. I did not care for the campus set-up, either. It was in Providence and the buildings were spread out throughout a few blocks, so there was this kind of open-in-the-city campus, and I realized that I want a more traditional campus.

The next day we visited Northeastern, with its campus smack in the middle of Boston. A campus and a city! I loved the Co-op program; it allows you to intermittently go to school and work at the same time. Mama would love that! And I might even be able to intern at the New England Aquarium.

On our way back to New York, we stopped by Wheaton College. The snow was falling around this tiny liberal arts school* and the kids thought Auntie Evan and Uncle David were my two dads. That assumption and the poster for HIV testing said a lot about how accepting and laid-back the environment is. Oh, and I still dream about that beautiful botany lab. The problem is that I don’t even remember exactly where Wheaton was, except it was in a cute small town and part of the Marine Studies Consortium.

Maybe I was just getting worn out. Auntie Evan and Uncle David were too, so we took a day off back home in Westchester before heading to Poughkeepsie, where we visited Marist College and Vassar College. They couldn’t have been more different! Both were great, but Marist was way more “vocational” (SAT word!!!!) That means, like Northeastern, it’s all about getting the job right after graduation, while Vassar is all about grad school and higher learning—like RISD without the sole focus on art and cigarettes.

I also liked the dorm situation. At Vassar, the dorms aren’t separated by grade, which I think is the way it should be. You live with students of all ages. At Marist, freshmen live with freshmen. There are pros and cons to that. Like, if you don’t know where a class is, what are the chances another freshman two doors down will? I would say slim to none. The big problems with Vassar? My grades may not be high enough and it’s very expensive. Mama’s gonna hate that!

Here’s what I learned on my first college tour: Sometimes what you think you want and what you actually want are two very different things. I thought I would love a school I hated, and a school I didn’t even want to go to ended up being my favorite. So when you are going on college tours with family or friends—or your two uncles—you should keep an open mind or you might miss out on something great—and be honest with yourself about who you are: I like Alex Claire, my Toms and I want to save the Honey Badger, but at the end of the day I am a Sperry girl who loves her Tori Birch ballet flats and Deva hair products. Three snaps up.

--Lily Schenk

PS. Next tour: Washington D.C.: Catholic v. American—and both Mama and Auntie Evan are coming. Oh, brother!

* I learned that a “liberal arts school” is one that focuses on imparting broad general higher education in the arts and/or sciences, rather than focusing on vocational or technical education such as business or engineering.