College Hiccups

College hiccups can be deciding factors in the admissions process.

Our daughter is a high school senior who plans to matriculate to my college alma mater in the fall. We have paid the enrollment fee. I know lots of people are still deciding. I am on a college parents’ page, and several of my friends are too. We see red flags in some of the posts, so I’m going to share a few here as “cautionary tales.” Every parent/student needs to do their homework beforehand, because stuff happens. There are often things we don’t consider beyond tuition/dorms and usual college stuff, but here are some surprising posts from different college parent pages:

  • “We live across the country. My son is having mental health issues. Can we get a tuition refund?” What the what?!?! I wasn’t the only person who saw red flags on this. The first response was, “You need to stop worrying about a tuition refund and go help your child.” The original poster’s response? “I can’t afford to fly there.” If I could not afford to get to my child in an emergency situation, I would have to reconsider her college. She would need to go closer to home. My daughter needs an advocate in emergencies. Our daughter is going 500 miles away, but we have family and close friends in the area, and we can afford to get there. What to consider: whether the unexpected cost of a last-minute airline ticket would break the bank for you. And please, if your child is having mental health issues (it can happen to anyone), get there as fast as you can.
  • “My daughter joined a sorority, and we thought the dues/fees were all-inclusive. It’s costing way more than we expected.” Anyone considering joining the Greek community needs to know dues/fees don’t include everything. There are hidden costs…t-shirts for every event, tickets for formals, dresses for formals, gifts for bigs/littles, costumes for parties, lettered gear, sorority/fraternity pins…it adds up. If you’re strapped for cash, you want to know the fees/dues before entering the process. At some big southern universities, Greek dues can be $5000/semester for people who don’t live in the house and $10k per semester for those who do. Whereas, at other colleges with smaller or no houses, they can be much lower. For a US News article from November 2021 about this, click here. What to consider: Be sure it isn’t cost prohibitive. It is unfair to a chapter to accept a bid knowing you can’t afford it.
  • “My son forgot to get his necessary prescription refilled. Can someone tell me the name of a pharmacy that makes same-day deliveries?” I get it. I have forgotten to get meds refilled in a timely manner. If your child has a prescription that he/she needs regularly, it is a good idea to check out pharmacies/delivery services on the front end instead of waiting till the “forget” happens. When you visit the college or university, take time to find a pharmacy that would work with him/her…if there is one. It could be a lifesaver…literally. If there isn’t a pharmacy nearby that can help your child on the fly with deliveries of a life/death medication, you might want to think about another school. What to consider: the health of your child.
  • “My child needs a ride to the airport/city, etc. If you have a child driving that way, maybe you can help him out? We are sending our daughter with a car, but if we weren’t, I would do my homework on this. I wouldn’t want her to be dependent on other students for transportation. Sometimes, students need rides. I would research public transportation for rides near campus. For the airport, which is an hour from her college, I would research shuttles/hired cars and expect to pay. I could not expect another student to be my child’s personal airport shuttle; that’s a lot of time/gas/wear and tear. Carpooling is nice for those who have outbound flights at about the same time, but what happens when your child’s return flight is delayed for hours? Expect the other student to wait five or six hours? No. If you’re not sending your child with a car, check college/university web pages for travel information. They often list airport shuttles/car services/taxi companies. What to consider: Make sure transportation is reliable and not cost prohibitive. To read about some of those costs, click here.
  • “I thought there would be nonstop flights between College Town and our city, but there aren’t…” Hmmmm…find out about the flight situation before you enroll your child in a college or university. If your child isn’t going to college in a hub city (Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Miami, etc.) and you don’t live in a hub city, chances are there won’t be nonstop flights. Lots of people have trouble with this concept. Sure, Southwest Airlines doesn’t have a spoke-and-hub system for their flights, but most major carriers do. Connecting flights add travel time (making weekend visits shorter) and increase the odds of cancellations/delays, so do your homework beforehand. Check different airline sites or Orbitz/Expedia/Trivago. And get an idea about the costs of those flights. For lots of people, this can be a deciding factor. What to consider: Travel time, and again, if cost is a factor, this needs to be considered. For even more info about travel costs for students, click here. And always remember the costs listed in the article are “average.” For example, I know my daughter’s travel costs will be more than average. If your child is flying to/from college, the costs likely will be higher than a child who is driving to/from college.
  • “I loved the university when I was there, but my child has not made friends and wants to transfer to a smaller school. What to do?” Maybe it’s going to take time, or maybe they need to transfer. The school that was perfect for you might not be perfect for your child. Or maybe you didn’t go there but wanted to; it might not be the place for your child. Maybe you thrived, or would have thrived, in that environment, but your child won’t. I have friends who went to big schools, but their children need to go to smaller colleges…and vice versa. One friend who went to college with me said her daughter is intimidated by the school. She said her “less-than-fashionable” daughter (her words, not mine) fears she won’t “find her people” in the big setting. She even went so far as to say her child is afraid she would feel like “the poor kid” (again, her words). Yikes. If she’s concerned about it, it’s a real concern. I spoke with a friend this morning whose daughter has been accepted to her southern alma mater that’s mostly in-state students, but they live in Ohio. My friend said, “I was southern, but she’s not. We are taking that into consideration.” Make sure your child spends some time at the colleges he/she is considering. What to consider: They need to feel comfortable. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. Are you pushing your child to do what you did/wanted to do? Same with this next post…
  • “I always wanted my child to attend Prestigious University, but he wanted to go to Big State University. Anyone else have trouble reconciling that?” This one bothers me. Your child is going to college; you aren’t. Instead of saying anything further, I’m going to recommend you read a piece from Grown and Flown here. What to consider: where your child goes to school is not who he/she is.
  • “We want to visit our son during a football game weekend, but I’m having trouble finding inexpensive lodging. Suggestions?” Depending on where your child goes to school, it’s important to consider lodging costs. If you want to visit your child on a “big football” weekend at some schools (especially SEC schools), it’s not going to be cheap. And if it is cheap, you probably don’t want to stay there. Factor in lodging costs if you are going to need to stay overnight when you visit your child. You can’t stay in the dorm! Where our daughter is going, I know hotels are not inexpensive, and the price goes up during football weekends (supply and demand!), and on some other weekends too. You want to be able to visit without breaking the family budget. What to consider: will you be able to visit when you want? To read an article from 2018 that offers some examples of the cost of attending college football games…without inflation, click here.
  • “We live out of state, and my daughter only wants to to to College Z, but being out of state, we are going to have to get loans for everything. I’m worried about the debt. Anyone else?” I feel so badly for this mom. She clearly cares about her child’s happiness. But I worry about their taking on unnecessary debt. I know lots of people who tell their children they can’t go out-of-state, because of cost. I have a friend who went out of state for a specific major; when she changed her major, her parents told her, “Then you’re coming back to our state. We aren’t paying out of state tuition if you can get the same degree in-state.” And she did. I feel like, in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, lots of parents told their kids they had to stay in-state. The person who created the post in question is sending her child to a school that is going to cost her $50-$55K per year…all in loans. She could likely send her to an in-state public university for $30k or less per year. Big difference: $200k vs $120k. If you can afford the out-of-state tuition, it’s one thing, but she would be taking on all that as debt when her child can likely find an acceptable, fun in-state school. Remember what the Rolling Stones said: You can’t always get what you want. What to consider: Are you or your child going to be in debt forever for an educational experience they could get closer to home for less?

Here’s my official disclaimer: I am not a college counselor. I am not a professional anything. I am a parent of a high school senior, and the posts above are from parent pages of different colleges. Trust me when I say these are tame examples. Some of them are real doozies.

My thoughts? Do your own homework about the school, all possible hidden costs, and as many different situations as you can conjure up in your brain. It seems like a lot of the posts I see are about money and mental health. Do your homework. It can make a big difference in whether your child will be happy and healthy or not…and whether you’ll be able to visit each other during the school year or not.

And good luck with the process. One day, we will look back on this with fond memories.

***If you are on a college parents’ page and have seen some submissions to share, please send them to me in a private message! Maybe we will have a Part 2!***

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