I’ve Already Graduated from College

I’ve already graduated from college.

When our daughter was in third grade, she came home one afternoon and asked me to help her with a math problem. She didn’t ask for help often, and I was happy to oblige. I sat down and worked with her, showing her how to do a problem. When I finished, she just looked at me and said, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” I said, “Well, that’s how I do it. I won the math award in high school…I know what I’m doing.” Again…”that’s not how my teacher does it.” My response? “Then ask your teacher in the morning. I have already passed third grade math.” And honestly, that was the best response for lots of reasons, the main one being that I don’t know how to do “new math.”

It reminded me of my mother when I was in school. I remember asking her for help with geometry, and her response was, “Honey. I don’t remember. That was 30 years ago. I’ve already passed geometry.” And with that, she turned back to continue watching Dynasty, because what Krystle Carrington was wearing was important. At that point in my life, I guess I thought moms retained every bit of math knowledge they had acquired in school. I guess I expected her to be able to recall the Pythagorean theorem on demand…30 years after passing her geometry class. My daughter has not asked me for math help (or any other kind of help in school) since. I guess, if she needed help along the way, she asked a classmate or a teacher.

And now, she is finishing high school in the next few weeks and preparing to leave for college! Exciting times at our house! She is enrolled, but she has lots of things to do before she can go off to college.

Back in the 80s, when I was applying to college and preparing to leave, I did it all. I don’t remember my parents helping me at all. Sure, they paid for everything, but I did all the legwork. I remember brochures and packets coming in the mail from different colleges and universities. My mother put a bag in my room to deal with that. Every day, after the mail arrived, she would bring all the brochures and packets up to my room and drop them into the bag. Every now and then, I would weed through the information and throw away the information from the schools I wasn’t interested in. When I applied to colleges, I simply asked her for checks to mail with the applications. I wrote the checks, and she signed them. I’m not even sure if she knew which schools the checks were going to. And that was OK, because I was the one going to college. She had already graduated from college.

Now, as my daughter is preparing to leave for college, I have joined some Facebook parent pages for her university, which is also my alma mater. I have written about the parent pages before. They are annoying, to say the least. Moms asking how to send baked potatoes to their kids’ dorms. (Not kidding.) Moms asking where their kids should park. (Not kidding.) Moms asking about tutors for their kids. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to do their kids’ schedules. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to drop/add classes. (Not kidding.) Rarely, there is someone who asks a question or shares information that is useful.

Why did I put “not kidding” behind each of those items I listed? I will tell you why: because those are all things the kids should be handling themselves. And do you know why? Because they are the ones going to college. Fortunately, my daughter hasn’t asked me to handle anything for her (I don’t have any login information for her student account). She likely knows I would say, “That’s something you need to figure out like I had to do when I went to college. I’m not going to college; you are. I’ve already graduated from college.” Does it mean I don’t care? No, it means the opposite. It means I care enough to let her do it herself. She needs to learn to solve her own problems. She needs to know how to get her own questions answered. She needs to be responsible for herself. I have full confidence in her, because I have let her figure things out for herself for a long time. Heck, it’s easier for them now than it was when we were in college! Now, all the information they need is on the website!

Back in the good ol’ 1980s, if we had questions about college stuff, we had to search through the university catalog. Or get the university phone book and make some calls to get answers. If we were wondering about where to order a baked potato to have delivered to our dorm, we had to find the yellow pages and look it up. Only, we couldn’t look up “baked potato delivery.” We had to look up restaurants and search for one with an ad for delivery. We also had to have some idea of which ones offered baked potatoes. Or we could walk down the dorm hall asking people if they knew where we could order a baked potato…that often worked. But back in the 80s, our moms were not ordering food to have delivered to us. No way. Honestly, I’m not even sure my mother knew the name of the dorm I lived in freshman year! No joke.

All this also makes me think about something that happened when our daughter was about six years old. My friend, Wendy, and I had taken my 6-yr-old daughter, Wendy’s 6-yr-old son, and my twin 6-yr-old nephews to Great Wolf Lodge one weekend. When we took them to dinner, my daughter was holding her own plate, but standing next to me at the buffet. Wendy’s son was holding his own plate but standing next to her at the buffet. I looked around for my nephews and saw one at the prime rib station, asking the server for a slice of prime rib. The other one was navigating the salad bar on his own. When we sat back down, Wendy and I talked about how awesome it was that they handled it all on their own! I called the nephews’ mom the next day and said, “Wow! They handled the buffet like champs!” And I still remember her response. She said, “That’s what happens when parents ignore their kids. They become self-sufficient.” I laughed, because I knew she didn’t really ignore them, but she didn’t baby them. They handled things for themselves at six! And I learned a valuable lesson. l didn’t ignore my daughter, for sure, but I let her handle things on her own. Those same nephews are off to college this fall too, and I feel sure they can handle anything that comes their way.

When we get my daughter moved into the dorm in August, I will feel pretty sure she can figure things out. She can handle it. She has always been a decision-maker. She is like me; she can make a decision…it might not always be the best one, but she can make a decision, and that is a life skill. Why can she make decisions? Because I have always stepped back to let her make her own decisions. I might present the facts before she makes it, but she makes her own decisions. I’m proud of that, because “the road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” If your kid is about to leave for college, and you haven’t let them make life decisions, you have a few more months to let them practice, so they don’t become a flat squirrel.

I’ve already graduated from college.

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!***

College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!