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Taking the Kids -- college touring in Boston

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Content Agency on

If college touring is getting you down, Carly Copley knows how to destress the situation.

She's not a college counselor or therapist. She's a pooch -- an 8-year-old rescue Labrador retriever from the Animal Rescue League of Boston, who serves as the canine ambassador for the historic Fairmont Copley Plaza. You'll find her stationed at the front door of the hotel in the heart of downtown Boston.

"People come by for a little pet therapy every day," jokes Mike Eades, the longtime doorman at the Fairmont, who has made Carly a part of his own family, along with his wife, kids and three other dogs.

Having weathered college tours with three kids from upstate New York and New England to Colorado and California, I think a little pet therapy may be just the thing, especially after a haughty tour guide left one daughter in tears ("I'll never fit in here!" she wailed) or my son refused to get out of the car after a five-hour drive to the campus. ("I don't like this place," he groused.) My youngest reluctantly toured campuses as she had decided she only wanted to go where her older sister had gone, which she ultimately did.

What a stressful time, and I'm not even talking about the worry over paying for a college -- or two or three.

Especially in fall, you'll see many tight-lipped parents with their high school children dragging behind, especially in cities like Boston, which has some 35 colleges, universities and community colleges. There are more than 150,000 students in Boston -- 10 percent of Massachusetts' total population -- who are matriculating everywhere from Boston University to the Berklee College of Music, Harvard and MIT to Wentworth Institute of Technology. And right outside Boston there are more schools, including Tufts University, Brandeis University and Wellesley College.

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The good news: Because there are so many different kinds of schools in Boston -- large and small, public and private, urban and out of the city -- Boston is a good place for a student to get a sense of the kind of place she'd like to be -- without driving hours and hours from campus to campus.

The other good news: Boston is a fun city to visit. I should know. I wrote The Kid's Guide to Boston.

Wherever you are touring schools this fall -- and Carly Copley would agree -- make sure you have some time for fun. Maybe that is a visit to the New England Aquarium where you can all laugh at the penguins and sea turtles, go whale watching, play Blue Planet Bingo and get a prize.

Maybe your young artist will want to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. (The Make Believe exhibit -- fantasy, fairy tales and magic will be here until next January and kids and teens up to 17 are free weekends and weekdays after 3 p.m.) Another good bet is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum with its fantastic gardens and the mystery of the single largest property theft in the world -- the still unsolved theft on March 18, 1990 of 13 works of art worth more than $500 million. (There is a $10 million reward!) For those who prefer contemporary art and are seeking inspiration, The Institute of Contemporary Art is free for kids up to 17 and free for everyone Thursday nights and offers the chance to see diverse works in a range of media.

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