The latest college application scandal has been all over the news for the past few days. Interviews with college sports directors- the good ones, and interviews with people who help kids with their college applications- the honest ones. Interview after interview, each one more embarrassing to these prestigious schools that parents have paid boatloads so that their children could get accepted into them.
I remember the two years prior to my son going to college like it was a bad dream as I reflect on the absurdity of it all. The pressure between his peers, the parents I spoke to daily and the teachers and counselors. It was like he was getting ready for the Olympics.
“What colleges have you applied to?” People would ask. The laundry list would be repeated, mind you each application had a non-refundable fee, and there would be discussions about the choices as if somehow this was a gauge of worthiness, of intelligence, of prowess for both our son and for us as parents.
Then there were the visits. The expectations of them, the decisions to go to them, the costs involved with them, the time it took to schedule them and the visits themselves. My son applied to five schools. Two local schools in our own state, Roger Williams University and University of Rhode Island and three distance schools, University of Arizona, Florida State and The University of Alabama. He got into four of them, two were a good distance from our home.
He had the same idea as many of his peers to go to a school “far away from this little state we live in, Rhode Island.” The pressure also poured in from the private high school he attended who wanted their own accomplished students to be able to say they went to “acceptable” schools. Schools that would make their roster of students who attended them add value to the price tag of four years of a private high school I suppose so that when parents were shopping for high schools, those lists of colleges that the seniors had recently been accepted into would be that sparkle you see in the rings at a jewelry store. I remember thinking to myself, Am I the only one out here who thinks this is the most ridiculous bullshit I have ever seen?
We ended up visiting Florida State and Alabama, beautiful campuses with all of the bells and whistles you never knew were possible at a college. There were times I looked around thinking, Am I at a college or a country club? Isn’t college supposed to be crappy food and dorm rooms the size of a postage stamp?
I remember sitting in the orientation at Alabama after our wild tour of their football stadium, and boxed lunch at said football stadium followed by a rousing practice cheer “Rolltide!!!” As I looked at my all too happy son and my former husband screaming Rolltide, I sat wondering if we were ever going to see a classroom.
The starry eyed look in my beautiful son’s eyes as we were promptly dropped in the Alabama store where my former and I began buying all things Alabama like there was no other school in our dreams. Sucked into the Rolltide.com machine. I know for you Alabama football fans out there, this is blasphemy, but I started to question what the 42k price tag was actually paying for. A beautiful campus and I am guessing some form of education, I wouldn’t know, we never saw a classroom. Yes we went to the business school auditorium where the dean of business talked about what else, Football. He did occasionally mention the curriculum, but he lost me when he started a sentence with Irregardless, a pet peeve of mine going all the way back to my teacher grandmother. I saw my son’s heart sink because he knows me well and that one grammatical slip was likely the nail in the coffin.
Then we sat down at the how are you going to pay for this school seminar where we learned that I had misread the tuition costs. I thought the costs were 21k and it turned out that was PER SEMESTER. Needless to say, I felt like an idiot, my ex-husband freaked out like a five year old, reminding me of why we weren’t married anymore (there had to be some bonus to this wacky trip), my son was almost in tears because there was just no way we were going to spend what would have easily turned into 60k per year on college and I felt like a failure as a mother. As we made our way to Florida State somber, but hopeful, I really began thinking about all of this nonsense.
The pressure for what? Except for bragging rights, and connections, wasn’t the point of college to get a degree and get out and get to work? One thing I knew was there was no way I was going into debt for college. I convinced Michael and my former to visit URI. They begrudgingly agreed with their tails between their legs. I became the cheerleader and we found our local school to be a great fit for many reasons. Location, ease of getting there and home for holidays, a good program, and the cost.
If Michael went there, Dave and I could give him the gift of a college tuition with no debt for any of us. I began my sales pitch to my son and we decided that he would give it a year, then transfer if he wanted to Alabama where he would have to pay the difference of the cost of URI. My son is a frugal sort and I am guessing that this alone made him decide to give my idea a try. Well after the first year, he loved it, and stayed.
As he approaches his senior year, I look back at all of the worry and angst as well as the money spent prior on college coaching and sat prepping now through the eyes of this scandal and roll my eyes. Our children are watching us. What are we teaching them when we take our big egos to the college visits and write even bigger checks to ensure their little babies can have the bragging rights they were raised for.
What I also find amusing and disturbing in this scandal is the blatant mentions of the actresses and their names and photos in all of the headlines and not as much attention on the rest of the people who were caught adding another layer of female focus to this embarrassment. The calling out of women in the press adds another conversation to be had, but this is for another piece. Why not list everyone? Why is it only the women in the headlines? Just curious.
If you are a parent getting ready to send your child to college, first think price rather than experience, think education, safety, location, is it easy to get your child back and forth if they want to come home for all of the breaks, how much will that cost too? Four years goes by at a blink. When they get to be an almost senior, all of this worry that seemed so important at the time is forgotten at the same speed. No one cares. Except how you show you care.
College admission has been a great opportunity to set an example for financial responsibility, and we have given our son a gift that allows him to get out of college with no debt. What this gives him is financial freedom to travel after he gets out, to not feel pressure in having to line up his career immediately, to learn what he enjoys so he can choose what he wants to do with his life rather than it choose him. In this scandal I realize that the money is no object here. These people have the money to pay for their children to go to college. Maybe a better use in hindsight would have been to set up a college fund with the extra money that had to allow kids who otherwise couldn’t afford to go an opportunity. One of these checks probably would have paid for five or more kids to have the privilege. Hindsight.
This scandal is about EGO. I remember clearly the pressure coming from all angles and for some reason, we managed to get through it. I hope that this can be a teaching moment for all parents and their kids to settle down here and look at what is important. A good education, as little debt as possible and more important, an honest one.