Is My Child Ready for College?
Crisis or Opportunity?
One of my children is very shy and sensitive. She's always needed a bit more, both in terms of our attention and our support. Although she's a strong student with a good GPA, and weighed in high on the SAT testing scale, some difficult decisions had to be made concerning college.
She was easily admitted to some competitive institutions. At two, she was also accepted into a rigorous major. Three public universities invited her into their honors program. A couple of colleges gave her extremely generous aid packages. It was excruciating to turn these down in favor of a four-year school close to home, which allowed her to commute. But, in the end, that's what she chose to do.
Deep in her heart, I believe she knew she wasn't ready to live on her own. There is no shame in that either.
For me, I struggled mightily against all the little voices that said, "You're just being an overprotective mother who can't let go."
Maybe a little of that was true. I would have missed my daughter. But I more worried that she wasn't cut out for dorm life, and that she'd end up back home anyway, broken and with fewer options.
Dorm Life is Not for Everyone
The Situation was also Dictated by Our Circumstances
Our income is at the low end of middle class and she's not the only child in the family we have to educate. Actually, we are barely middle class, and the reason we are is because of very careful grocery shopping. We pay our bills, but there's little left over.
If college life didn't work out, we didn't have the financial resources to help her get back on her feet. Only high-achieving freshmen tend to get the gravy-train financial aid. That's because colleges like to pad their incoming class with sought-after candidates. Students who've failed at another institution, for whatever reason, are no longer attractive prospects. They might get a little grant or scholarship aid, but it probably won't be much.
The average cost of attendance (room, board and tuition) at some private schools now exceeds $60,000 a year. Going away to a public university can be as much as half of that. This is clearly something we couldn't pay for out of pocket.
The Opportunity is Now
This was our daughter's best chance to eventually work in a rewarding field of her choice. Success for her was more likely if she continued her studies while living at home.
My husband, bless his heart, believed just as strongly that our daughter needed "the college experience." We had numerous discussions around this topic. I could certainly see his point, and part of me agreed with him. if she went away, and everything worked out, she'd be much better for the experience.
But it was a gamble. If we had unlimited income, we could have happily sent her off to school, be there to catch her if and when she falls, and then help her pick up the pieces.
Exceptwe didn't have enough money to do this. And she needs a college degree. Our society, and economy, are now heavily based on knowledge and technical skills. Although a diploma doesn't guarantee paid employment, it certainly offers an edge in the job market. Even in jobs that don't require further education, such as working in retail, having it certainly helps.
Living in an Uncertain World
The job market for young people is the worst it's been in recent memory. As anyone with a teenager knows all too well, landing a job, any job, is considered a major accomplishment.
It was beginning to look as if living at college was a somewhat risky proposition. Could we take this chance?
We had another child getting ready for college right behind her. Even if money were not an issue, having to come home, after going away, would still be devastating.
Being a slow starter, I knew my daughter's chances of success would be increased if she walked toward independence taking baby steps.
Which Way to Go?
Living Away from Home?
Is Your Child Ready for College Life?
Learning from Another Mother
I fought with myself because I didn't want to hold my daughter back in any way. She had some great opportunities that would never materialize again. This was her one shot of obtaining a four-year degree while still young enough to make the most of it.
What helped me was talking to a dear friend, who lived through the unfortunate experience of sending her brilliant, outgoing daughter to an elite school, only to later get a phone call from college officials, asking her to please come and take her home.
By all measures, this young woman should have adapted very well to campus life. But she was only there a little over a year before suffering a complete mental break.
Her options were then much more limited. The college she attended wouldn't let her back in until she had demonstrated a period of improved health.
So she applied to a university that had initially recruited her. This time around, though, she had to practically beg to be admitted. She is going there, but greatly worried about the heavy debt she's taken on. This anxiety is not helping her fragile emotional state.
"Please do not send your daughter to a dorm," my friend begged me.
A Very Common Scenario
My friend's daughter is by no means alone. Close to 50 percent of students who start college do not earn a diploma, which means somewhere along the way they drop out.
Each year in the United States, about 625,000 freshman begin college. But about 25 percent of them do not stay, for whatever reason. Even if my daughter was extremely resilient, there was still a chance she wouldn't make it.
It is well-known among college officials that being away from home for the first time, in a stressful environment, can precipitate a mental health crisis. Many students end up on anti-depressants. My friend's daughter, who thrived in high school, also needed prescription medication to regulate her moods. I can't help but think the "college experience" contributed greatly to her condition.
Reflecting on the competitive college admissions process, and how her daughter crumbled under pressure, my friend just shook her head and said, "What are we doing to our children?"
That's a really good question. Nowadays, just about everyone goes to college, whether they can handle the workload or not. High-achieving high school students have little time to unwind. They are too busy taking Advanced Placement classes, compiling a list of extracurricular activities and padding their resumes with volunteer work, all to impress admissions officers.
Campus life is romanticized in books, movies and on television. After striving for years to get into the college of their choice, the reality may not live up to expectations. They may also question their academic ability. Most high school graduates are not prepared for the rigors of college courses.
According to data released by ACT, the college-testing service, about 75 percent of incoming freshman do not meet the criteria to succeed in four key areas - English, math, reading and science.
My Daughter's Decision and Resisting the Pressure
This was our daughter's decision and my husband and I waiting anxiously. He was slowly coming around to the realization that living on campus wasn't for her.
One day, shortly before the May 1 decision deadline, she happily announced she wanted to stay local because the university offered a better program in her field than another selection.
She has never wavered or voiced second thoughts that this was the wrong choice. She has repeatedly said she's thankful she's still at home.
Her graduating class went in many different directions. At least half chose are going to the local community college. A fair number decided to attend a nearby university and commute. About a third are enrolled in a four-year program where they live on campus.
Actually, these numbers aren't too far away from the national average. At least 50 percent of all college students in the United States still live at home. This figure might also have risen in recent years, given the poor economy and the spiraling cost of college tuition.
Nevertheless, my daughter faced a certain amount of pressure, as well as a couple of people questioning her choice. One classmate asked her, point blank, why she was doing this.
The only reason is that it was right for her. The best advice on choosing a college I've ever heard was to find a school that's a good fit for you, not one that's right for your friend, your boyfriend or anyone else.
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