college, Parenting

MORE COLLEGE PERSPECTIVE

“My mother made me take the SAT six times!” my son’s friend, Jake, announced almost four years ago in the back seat of the car I was driving. The backstory of this announcement was that our dear friend Jake was trying to get into Annapolis. His mom is one of the fiercest mama’s I know and if this was his goal, she was going to help make it happen. 

Getting into Annapolis is no joke. It is a huge accomplishment and with a lot of hard work, perseverance and incredible help (it takes a village for sure), Jake achieved his dream and is about to finish his second year. This is one instance where I don’t roll my eyes at the notion of a SAT repeat, repeat, repeat, you get the point. I mean, come on, ANNAPOLIS, is like Harvard except with many more layers of bad ass.

Meanwhile my son, who was finishing up his junior year of private high school, seemed to be taking the path of least resistance. His first run at his SAT was nothing to scream from the rooftops about, I think it was something in the low 1600’s. Considering his mother took her SATS back in the day perhaps a little on the high side, I mean it was the early eighties and I lived with my father who believed that a sixteen year old should figure herself out by her own errors and judgements. Hence the decision to be baked causing my score to be a number one would expect to see in the movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. More on that some other time.

The only reason our son went to private high school was because I used to volunteer in the lunch room of his public middle school. On more than one occasion, many of his teachers would come up to me and encourage me to allow him to go to one of the private high schools. We took the bait. Though I don’t regret it, I know he would have done excellent at our local high school. Michael is a smart young man. He makes good decisions, always has. He is the type of kid who people say things like, “He’s going to go places.” But he is also the type of kid who does what he needs to get by. He was not the type who would join every group and club because it would look good on his college application. He was also not the type of student that would take the SAT again just to get a better score hoping that the college of his dreams would accept him. I distinctly remember his saying this profound statement at his senior year when he was applying to the five schools expected of him by said private school, “If the only reason I don’t get into the college is because of my SAT scores, then the college is not for me.”

This type of comment from my son was not surprising to me. When he was around three, he was in a private home day care around the corner from our house. Often I would walk him in the stroller or maybe we walked, I can’t remember now, but he would refuse to put on his coat. For some reason, I went with it. “Ok, you don’t want to wear a coat, your choice.” And off we went. I was taking him to a house filled with mammas, and my son showing up with no coat on a brisk day could cause judgement and eye rolls, lots of potential tsk tsks. I was seldom the mom who got sucked into that vortex. I was usually an outlier type mom. My son knew his own body temperature. His dad never wore a coat, he ran hot always so I just guessed that my son had the same body heat. I think these small decisions as a parent over time allowed me to be more accepting of his laissez faire attitude when we got closer to the college application circus we found ourselves in.

A circus indeed. At the same time he was applying to college, I had decided to take some classes at our local private university. At the first and only class I took there, I was surrounded by mostly white kids, they looked mostly the same, most from New Jersey, New York or Connecticut. These kids were uninterested in the class, many of them texting while the instructor was offering valuable information. This university was almost 45k per year and these kids were ambivalent, entitled almost. I couldn’t take it. So off I went to Rhode Island College for some classes where I found a diverse population, many kids who were there for the price, or as first generation college attendees. These kids were hungry for learning and I am guessing many of them held full time jobs while trying to get through their classes. Impressive and I had a new found appreciation of our local state colleges and universities.

Meanwhile my son was getting acceptance letters from four of the five schools he applied to. He could have gone to an out of state school for an extra 25k more per year then our in state colleges, not counting the travel back and forth for holidays and every time there was a hurricane warning. But with his unique wisdom, he was not sucked into the bragging fest. He was and still is pragmatic and frugal. His father and I were offering him a free ride at University of RI because that was what we could afford so that he would be able to leave college debt free, if he chose this path. Should he have decided to go to the out of state program, he would have had to take on some loans, so much harder to start his young life with after graduation.

I met a professor from Brown one day who told me that she had a student who was a first generation college attendee who managed to get into Brown the old fashioned way, by actually applying and getting accepted on her merit. She also had to take on student loans that would make your head spin. At the time of graduation she was burdened with over 150K in tuition debt. It is shameful that our colleges are even allowing this. The pressure to get a job right out of school so that they can begin paying their debt down is catastrophic to our children’s futures and their creativity potential. For what? So they can for four years say they went to a fancy school? I am not saying that kids shouldn’t go to these other schools at all. If they can afford them, if their parents can afford them without taking on home equity loans and burdens of debt that make them have to work well past retirement.

Our son gets to leave college with no debt because he had two parents who work hard, saved money and offered him this final gift in his young life. Neither of his parents finished college. We learned trades. Skills. And this has done well by us. I have always said that college shouldn’t be the only directive for our children. We should be allowing them the freedom to discover what ignites their passion and SUPPORT it without feeling like they are failures.

When I dropped out of college and chose the path of esthetics, aka beauty school, I thought my grandparents who were like my parents, were going to kill me. They were not happy. But I persevered; after all it was my life, my money. My problem was the outside forces who try to make our kids feel bad if they decide to go a different path or choose a community college or state university because it is what they can afford. I say bravo every time I speak to one of my son’s friends who have chosen to go to Community College of RI for two years to save money. Of all of the choices, these are the smartest ones. NO DEBT, this is what we should be teaching our children. This is a way better gift then bribing their way into a prestigious university with a brand name.

I think it is time we look at what we are teaching our children by forcing them to choose college as the only path. I know that life is harder without a degree, but I also know that pigeon holing our children from the time they are in kindergarten to think that college is the end all, we are doing a major disservice to the creativity that lies within each of our children. We should be working harder to develop their passions, juices, their entrepreneurial spirits, their community activism. College isn’t for everyone and clearly with this latest scandal it shouldn’t be.

Michael and his friend Jacob way before college became the thing it became.

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