“I couldn’t get into the University of Georgia today.”
That is the popular refrain from UGA grads around my age. I don’t say I word. I couldn’t have gotten into my mother and father’s alma mater in 1992 when I was applying to schools. I didn’t even try.
Getting into college seems to be a stressful and insurmountable challenge nowadays. Two weeks ago, a college admissions scam shocked our nation. Well-to-do parents are accused of bribing admission officials, test proctors and coaches to ensure prestigious colleges and universities accepted their children.
My wife Lori and I are experiencing the admissions process now with our 17-year-old. Not that he is looking at elite schools, but the acceptance rate for Yale University was 6.7 percent for 2016; for Stanford University it was 5 percent. UGA accepted 13,050 out of 29,314 applications this spring — good for a 44 percent acceptance rate. However, the average GPA of those accepted was 4.10, with a low-end SAT score of 1330.
I remind my wife our son will go to college. He will get in somewhere, and what he gets out of it will be up to him. The name carved in stone on the manicured lawn out front has little to do with that.
My grades in high school left much to be desired, and I barely paid attention to the college process. I applied to three schools and got in two. I honestly can’t tell you why I chose Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, North Carolina.
I didn’t know it was a Catholic school until that first Sunday on campus when everyone disappeared at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. At that anointed hour, red solo cups lined the walls outside the Gothic basilica.
The college is best known for the exit sign hanging over Interstate 85 just before Charlotte. The basilica was built in 1892 and anchors the campus. Its aesthetic sets the tone for the academic buildings, the residence halls and the student life centers, that is to say Belmont Abbey had a handsome campus.
The class sizes were small and the professors sharp. If you wanted, you could get to know those teachers well. They were always accessible as long as they weren’t teaching.
Much of my college career was a wash, but around my junior year, I started taking classes that interested me, focusing on religion, history and literature. I also started developing a rapport with those professors.
I was a constant presence in the office of one of my favorite English professors. A struggling writer, he lived in a cabin in the woods with no running water or electricity, very Henry David Thoreau-esque. He restored old tools in his free time. A group of about four of us crowded into his office after classes and listened to him rail against contemporary literature and culture. He was entertaining and a little nuts.
There was the philosophy professor, who looked like he stuck his finger in an electric socket, his hair shooting out in every direction. He couldn’t comb it if he tried. He was an incredibly intelligent and affable man. In his office after classes, he would pose questions that had no answers, leading to never-ending conversations.
Then there was the theology teacher. I’m pretty sure he wanted nothing to do with me. Although I tried, I remained a terrible student. Once a month, I’d slink into his office and shoot the breeze with him for an hour, sometimes longer. He helped me become a better human being. I’ve told him that.
About halfway through my senior year, another English professor told me about an internship at the local paper. He knew I wanted to write, and he thought it would be a good experience.
I spent the next decade-plus of my life inside newsrooms.
Most people have never heard of Belmont Abbey. That’s fine. It isn’t ranked and there’s nothing particularly special about it except the basilica and the monks. It is an abbey, after all. I may well have been the worst student the school has seen.
But I got what I needed out of it: a career and, more importantly, a foundation.