The College Conundrum: One Parent’s Journey

Author: Jennifer McGlothen

UniversityWhen I was preparing to go to college, I picked a few schools based on what I thought I wanted to do and where I thought I wanted to be. No campus tours, no interviews. I applied and was accepted. I chose Drake University. My parents had planned financially, accepted my choice and that was it. That was more years ago than I care to admit, but going through the process with my daughter was a bit more complex.  I’m not even sure of all the reasons why, but a few stand out.

Helicopter Parents

First, the college counseling staff at her high school held a meeting in her junior year to begin to outline what happens when and what we parents needed to know.  One clear message I got was about not being a “helicopter parent”. I thought it was a little too late to expect a parent that typically hovers to back off now that their child is ready for college. Besides that, there was a lot to take in about the nuances of admissions, test scores, essays, need-based aid, merit aid, visits and the timing of it all. It was overwhelming, but knowing how my daughter is pretty independent and stays on top of things, I decided there was no need for anxiety. I just let her get in the driver’s seat.

Career Direction

Second, some kids are very clear about their career direction, others are not.  My daughter fell into the latter category for the most part. I was okay with that, remembering how I changed my major as a sophomore and how career goals for me were more a process of discovery, learning what I did and didn’t like with each job I had. But now it seemed that college was way too expensive to not know what you want to do, so I began to understand why some students choose to take a gap year or attend community college for a couple years.

My child was not remotely interested in these choices.  The option of moving away from home for the quintessential college experience was what she wanted. Deciding on this huge educational investment with an eighteen-year-old, with quite a variety of interests and talents began to be somewhat of a conundrum.

Role Model

Part of the conundrum was that my daughter’s father is one of those people who apparently was crystal clear about what he wanted to do at this point in his life. You can’t get much more specific than going to an institute of technology. He’s in IT to this day and hasn’t deviated too much in role or responsibility. That’s rare.

So his perspective tends to be more narrow, and along with it comes degrees of dogmatism. Understanding and supporting a daughter with broad interests, who wanted a liberal arts focus, was a challenge that sprinkled friction and disagreement throughout the process. There were questions like, “what will you major in” and “what kind of job can you get”?  Valid questions, but not ones that needed to be at the top of the decision tree.

If I’m to be perfectly honest, I wanted my daughter to stay closer to home.  Not because I needed to hover. I didn’t like the thought of having to catch a plane or drive for more than a few hours to get to her if she needed me. I had to let go of that one, remembering that she had stated early in the process that she preferred not to stay in the Midwest.

Paying For It

GraduationOnce the finalists rose to the top of the list of ten schools applied to, no doubt financing contributed to the conundrum. As fate would have it, her top choice offered the lowest financial award package. In fact, her other two choices had offered enough that we didn’t need to sharpen pencils to figure out how to afford it.

How could that be?  I will never forget the day she sent a picture of herself during a visit at this particular school. I KNEW she had found her place. The school that she felt most connected to, the one she felt was the best fit, the place where she really wanted to be. I could not be the one to say, “you can’t go there because they didn’t give you enough money”. Conundrum.

In the weeks from receiving acceptances and financial awards, to making the final choice, we talked about all the pluses and minuses, priorities, programs, majors, geography and travel costs. Over and over we voiced all the concerns, back and forth. We prayed. The deadline for saying “yes” to one school and “thanks, but no thanks” to the other nine was May 1st.

When it was all said and done, we had to take a step of faith. We found the courage to choose the school that was the best fit for her all around and trusted that the money would be there.

After the choice was made, we knew it was the right decision. Everything is falling into place. From meeting a current student from Kansas City that has been so helpful, to getting into a Facebook group that helped her meet other students and find a roommate, to the most exciting thing ever… We won’t find out until June, but my daughter is a finalist for a national scholarship that could help match the dollars the schools she turned down offered.

We made it through the conundrum phase to the choice that has brought peace, the choice that brought me such joy. The other day, in the midst of handling some details for upcoming high school graduation activities and choosing her attire, my daughter lightheartedly said out of the clear blue, “I couldn’t be happier!!!”

It is true what was said at the college counseling meeting over a year ago.

Despite all the fuss, potential hovering, and worrying about getting into college at all, if you let your child be who they are, the process really can work so that he or she ends up where they are supposed to be. My daughter is going where she is supposed to be. Now I can focus on getting my head around the first of my two children flying out of the nest. When the time comes for my second child to make a choice about college, it should not be a conundrum at all.


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