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College tour impressions: Boston College

Why would a secular Jew consider a Jesuit Catholic education for his child?

By luck or accident, the first few college visits all brought us to different kinds of campus. We started with one well integrated into a moderate-size town. We then went to a largely self-contained campus of mostly rural characteristics, bordering a small but reasonably lively village strip. Then, Boston College offered us a largely self-contained campus in a large-city residential suburban area.

The campus is good-looking enough, with impressive Neo-Gothic main buildings surrounded by mostly serviceable modern architectural pieces. Our tour took us inside half a dozen buildings – the only such tour so far – and the interior spaces all looked renovated and well-equipped.

But there is practically nothing except residential streets directly outside of the campus perimeter. There is a huge pond with running paths around it on one side and a sizable cemetery on the other side, but we spied only one tiny stores-and-restaurants strip, six or seven establishments in total, in the near vicinity. Boston city center is about 5 miles away, which means 40-50 minutes on public transport one-way. Although people speaking to us uniformly emphasized “all that Boston can offer you”, I know from our own experience of living on the outskirts of London that those lengthy trips to and from the city center get rather annoying real fast and eventually become a decisive factor in not going anywhere. I would not be surprised if the majority of students rarely venture outside of campus.

The info session on campus distinguished itself with something I quite enjoyed. There was a standard admission officer pontificating on important topics as everywhere else, but instead of having just one current student on hand to have an occasional question lobbed to, BC rolled out a whole panel of five students, who spent about half an hour answering questions center-stage about their college experiences. It was rather entertaining, as the kids clearly nailed the prepared parts of their scripts, but fumbled around a bit when required to think on their feet. One parent asked a brilliant loaded question, “I assume all of you sat through a similar session when you were high-schoolers yourselves and then-students told you about BC; what was your biggest surprise when you actually got to campus as freshmen?” – and not one of the five kids was able to come up with a coherent answer, not even with glossy-ad-ready “You know, I think it all turned out exactly as I had imagined”.

I don’t think it was extraordinarily illuminating or can be used as the basis of any conclusions, but that performance did bring a bit of additional human feel into the session.

Our tour guide was a perky sophomore who did really well to showcase the shiny bits of the school. Becky was not impressed with her lack of knowledge of when the Jewish New Year was, and while I attempted to point out that a Catholic Midwesterner may not possess that bit of knowledge, she would not accept that as an excuse.

Which brings me back to the question I posed at the beginning of this post.

I identify myself as belonging to the world Jewry, but I am nowhere near religious or even observant. I do not particularly care to force any set of beliefs onto my children, and I will not look kindly on anyone else trying to force their sets of beliefs onto my kids. But from what I know, Jesuit education is not at all about converting students into canonical faith. Rather, it is firstly about giving those students a universally well-rounded education. I can get behind that credo.

There are plenty of non-Catholics attending BC every year (although I accept that they are in minority), there are purportedly many non-Catholic religious and cultural organizations on campus (including Hillel, which is very close to Becky’s heart), the academic requirements do not include attending a daily Mass (although there is a Theology requirement, which I understand can be satisfied any number of ways that focus on philosophy and history rather than on intimate knowledge of sacred texts). BC offers somewhat fewer programs and majors than the colleges we visited before, but still all of the major areas of interest for our undecided/undeclared applicant are represented, which is why it scored pretty high on the matching exercise that Natasha and Becky did some time ago. As much as religious affiliation is a cringe-inducing factor for me, I can’t see myself disqualifying a good institution for that single reason.

Alas, Becky concluded that she did not see anything fantastic on balance, the school showed her “nothing bad”, that’s all. I guess that means that we’ll make a game-time decision whether to apply or not depending on how many we want to limit ourselves to in the end.