Down to the College Wire

Down to the college wire.

It’s April 1. College admissions decisions are out there for most schools, and now it’s time for lots of high school seniors to make their final choice. My daughter decided long ago, so we were happy to step off that hamster wheel, but she has friends who are still deciding. God bless them. Some of them are having a difficult time for lots of different reasons. Some didn’t get into their top choice. Some got into none of their top choices. Some got into every school they applied to and can’t decide which one is best. It’s just not easy. It’s an adult decision…the first adult decision lots of them have ever made. They feel alone. They know they are embarking on a new experience, but it can be scary, and they are afraid of making the wrong choice. You see that guy in the feature photo for this piece? He’s sitting there alone…that’s how lots of them feel right now… like they are alone. They need support from the folks who love them.

I’m no college counselor. I’m simply a parent of a high school senior, but there is one thing I wish all kids would consider: they need to find the best choice for themselves.

I hear lots of seniors saying their parents want them to go to one college, but they want to go somewhere else. I hear lots of them say they don’t want to disappoint their teachers/college counselors. I hear lots of them say they want to pick a school by how it’s ranked in US News and World Report. Who am I to say they’re wrong with their methods of decision-making? So no, I’m not going to say they are “wrong.”

I do, however, want to remind them they are the ones going to the school. Their parents won’t be attending. (If their parents are paying, affordability might come into play.) Their college counselors and classmates won’t be sitting in their desks in the classrooms, living in the dorm, or going to athletic events. Each senior needs to make his/her decision based on his/her preferences, because guess what? US News and World Report isn’t going to college either. What US News and World Report thinks is most important might not be what you think is most important. Different people like different things!

And as these kids (yes, they are still kids) make their final decisions, we need to offer them support instead of shaming them for their choices. I know lots of kids who get into “highly ranked institutions,” but they choose a school with a “lower ranking” because it offers other things they want. My own daughter would never get into an Ivy League school, but that’s OK, because that’s not where she wants to be anyway. And there are other kids who do get into Ivy League schools but opt for something else where they will have a different experience. Big sports are important to our daughter, and she would laugh at Ivy League football games. No offense to the Ivy League people of the world, of course, but she likes to watch more competitive football. I have lots of Ivy League friends I love, but even they admit SEC football is awesome.

Some kids want to go to schools that are more outdoorsy. In North Carolina, one school that is “outdoorsy” is Appalachian State University. I know lots of very successful people who went to school there and loved it. Is it a Top 50 school, according to US News and World Report? No. But it’s number one to those people who love it. All kinds of people go there, though…not just the “outdoorsy” people. I went to the University of Alabama. Again, not a Top 50 school by US News and World Report’s rankings, but I think it’s number one! It’s fun! It’s absolutely gorgeous…looks like a movie set. It has a wide array of majors and lots of opportunities in different areas. And it’s geographically diverse. I made some of my best life memories there and certainly made lifelong friends from all over the country. Over 65% of the student body is from out of state. The weather during tornado season is iffy, but most winters are pretty mild, and the sun shines a lot. Some people (like me and my daughter!) don’t want cold climates. And come on…football season is crazy fun there. Also, BarstoolU just ranked it as the number one party school in the country. Lots of people likely think that’s shallow. I think it’s important to have lots of options for fun, and so does my daughter.

Some of these kids might get into “highly ranked” big colleges/universities, but some of those same kids might think a smaller, liberal arts college would be a better fit for their personality. Don’t look down on them for choosing what is best for them. Applaud them for knowing themselves! You can’t put a square peg into a round hole. Or maybe you can, but the square peg likely won’t be happy there. And ultimately, don’t we want our kids to be happy in college? We want them to be happy there so they will stay there. We want them to be successful in college and beyond.

On the flip side, I was talking with a woman a few days ago who was in distress that her daughter wanted to go to a college far away. She wants her daughter to be happy, but said they don’t have any idea how they will pay for transportation costs. Yes, these kids are still kids, but they are pretty reasonable too, and they often understand that affordability counts too. Guess who is not paying your child’s college tuition? The college counselors at your school aren’t paying it. Their friends’ parents aren’t paying it. And their friends are not paying it. Some of them truly need to go to the “highest bidder,” meaning they need to go to the school that offers them the most money/financial aid.

And I recently spoke with another parent of a high school senior who was trying to make the decision for her daughter, saying, “She wants to go to XXXX University, but I just think she would love XXXXX University. I wanted to go there, but my parents wouldn’t pay the out of state tuition.” She’s trying to push her daughter into going where she wanted to go. Ick. We can’t live vicariously. We, the parents, aren’t going to college. We need to remember that too.

Here’s the skinny: each kid who is deciding on a college right now has different factors to consider. They have different priorities and different interests. Let’s applaud them for their decisions; this is one of the first tough decisions they will make in life.

We’re getting down to the college wire. Again, I’m not a college counselor, but I know it’s a tough time for lots of teens. Celebrate their decisions.

Fish or Cut Bait?

Fish or Cut Bait?

Recently, I discovered that an organization I have been associated with for a number of years has changed its mission and its financial objectives. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but it seems small changes were made over time. Each change was so small that I didn’t really notice till it was glaring in my face. And not only is it glowing in my face, but the same organization suddenly asks for money way more often than they used to. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about supporting an organization that has a mission with which I agree. But when I no longer agree? What do I do? How do I know when to do it? What do I do when I no longer agree with how the money is being spent?

If you’ve never heard the phrase “fish or cut bait,” it’s a saying that means “proceed with an activity or disengage.” It can be used in business…maybe in sales, you have a customer who is taking up a lot of your time and energy in trying to make a sale, and that energy/time might be better spent elsewhere. You have to decide if you’re going to “fish or cut bait,” meaning you have to decide if you are going to continue to pursue the sale or walk away and look for other sales that might have faster, more positive results. In a personal context, if you’re dating someone, there might come a time in the relationship that you have to decide it you want to stick with the person long-term or walk away from the relationship. Kind of like “should I stay or should I go.”

And that’s how I feel about this organization. I’m trying to decide if it’s worth more investment of my time and money, or if I should just walk away, since I no longer agree with the way the administrators are running the show. It’s heartbreaking, because I believed in this cause wholeheartedly…till I didn’t. After all, there are lots of other organizations that I actually agree with, and they would love to receive my charitable donations. I know that any funds I’ve been funneling toward this organization would be welcomed at my college alma mater, my sorority, Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, or Ronald McDonald House…and I agree with their purposes, their missions, and their spending. But it’s not that easy. I’m personally invested with this particular group, and that’s what makes it difficult. It’s like a marriage almost…you become so invested…and if your spouse slowly changes his/her beliefs about everything you’ve ever agreed upon, how do you know if/when to file for divorce?

No, I’m not filing for divorce…don’t go starting that rumor.

Here is what I finally had to do to come to a decision: I had to sit down and make a list of the things that have changed. I had to sit down and make a list of things I continue to believe in about the organization after all these changes. And after doing that, I could see clearly that there is very little about this organization I agree with in 2022. Because of that, I have chosen to “cut bait.” My charitable dollars and my volunteer time will be redirected elsewhere. Will it make or break the organization? No. They will notice that I’m no longer volunteering for the cause, but they likely won’t even notice I’m no longer contributing money, and that’s OK. I will notice. I will know I am no longer contributing to an organization whose ideals do not align with my own. I will no longer contribute to an organization that, in my view, is no longer being a good steward of the dollars I contribute. I’m not going to start a battle. I’m not going to continue to “fish,” because when I have tried to express my views, they went unheard.

I won’t go out and say ugly things about the organization. I will let their actions speak for themselves. I won’t try to damage their reputation. What they are doing might even be popular; it’s just not popular with me.

And you know what? It feels good. It feels good to know I stand for something. As my daddy used to say, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” The quote doesn’t actually belong to him. Alexander Hamilton gets the credit for the origin of that saying. But it’s true. Even by simply changing the direction of my philanthropy, I’m standing up for something.

It’s likely we have all found ourselves affiliated with groups whose ideals we ultimately questioned. I know friends who have lost faith in their employers, their churches, their schools, and charities. Several years ago, our city’s largest charitable organization was involved in a spending scandal and lots of people stopped volunteering and contributing. It happens.

In this situation, I chose to “cut bait,” and it feels good to channel the support elsewhere…to organizations that have ideals in line with my own.

***When becoming involved with a non-profit, it’s a good idea to find out how much of the money you donate is going to administrative costs and how much is actually being used for the mission. Charity Watch is a good place to check. You can see their website here. At the website, enter the name of the nonprofit, and you will see their grade and how they spend.***

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!