Adventures Of A College Parent – 1
My oldest son started college this fall. He is the first of my children to follow what society deems as the “traditional” schooling path. It has been an adventure for me as well as him! One of my sweet friends told me I should write about everything I’m learning from this experience. Naturally, I decided that was a good idea.
All through his senior year of high school, we were encouraging him (read: nagging) to pick a school and apply for scholarships. I don’t know where his motivation went, but he didn’t make a decision until March, which is well after the deadline for most scholarships. He had a dream school in mind, but there was no way we could afford the $36,000 per semester average cost so he settled for an in-state college. He had to switch his degree choice from aerospace engineering to mechanical engineering. The good news is that a lot, if not all, of mechanical engineering can apply to aerospace engineering. He will also open more opportunities in his future careers by having a less specialized degree.
This spring, I made the trek with my son to do the obligatory school visit. As part of a group of incoming freshman families, we toured the school – in particular the Engineering Department, talked to the financial aid office and did not get the best news, got him set up with housing, and bought a few souvenirs at the school store. I was, of course, that mom who made her son pose in front of one or two iconic signs in front of everyone and took photos of the pretty campus buildings. He loves me, even when I embarrass him.
Dear parents of current high school seniors,
Do not, under any circumstances, give your child the benefit of the doubt when your child tells you they are applying for scholarships. Ask for proof. Watch them submit the forms online. Tell them to apply for all the in-state scholarships they may even remotely be qualified for, and don’t skimp on those national ones in case they decide to go to school out of state. Oh, and have them make their list of top 5 schools before October 1st, which is when most of the scholarships open for applications. Then they need to apply for all the scholarships at all those schools. They can always turn down financial aid for the other schools once they settle on one.
A mom who trusted too much
I already mentioned that my son didn’t make a school decision until late in the year. This was because he had his heart set on Huntsville University and nothing we said could dissuade him. It wasn’t until I pulled up the NASA website and showed him that there were a lot of opportunities for people with engineering degrees outside of aerospace, and then showed him the average cost of attendance to Huntsville versus our state college, that he made what I think was a wise decision. I do not want my son to graduate college with mountains of debt.
While at the spring college tour, we stopped in at the financial aid office to get final confirmation of what aid he was getting and what the next steps were. This is where I discovered, much to my chagrin, that my son didn’t apply for a single scholarship all year. He told us he was applying, but it turns out he needed more guidance than he wanted to admit. He never asked for help and told me he had it under control, and I believed him. Parents, don’t make my mistake. There is a whole other story here about how we choose to parent our older children, but that is for another time.
My son needed approximately $8,000 more for the school year just for tuition and housing. The school requires that first-year students live on campus and have a meal plan, and after some quick research I’ve discovered that this is pretty common across the United States. We decided the unlimited meal plan was the best if he was living on campus, but he still needed money for books and supplies.
On the drive home, we talked about how we (he) was going to pay for school and the extra expenditures he would have throughout the year. He had quite a bit of money saved up from work and said he would sell his car. We estimated that if he kept some money in his account, that he would just barely have enough for school. I told him we would be able to help a little, but honestly, we are not in a financial position to pay for all of his college needs. I believe that this was an eye-opener for him, and another of those natural consequences. Thankfully he was able to get enough in grants and loans that he only had a small amount to pay. I just checked his bank account and he is actually pretty set for this year.
All in all, I am very proud of my son. He had some growing pains to work through as becoming an adult is not easy. If our experiences can provide help and insight to other parents, then we are happy to share. Good luck with your future college students!