Monday, March 09, 2015

College Road Trip: Cancelled

The whole college thing is a complicated dance. You want your kids to lead because in the end this largely about your child and his choice. But on the other hand, if you simply relegate yourself to the role of follower, your child might might miss out on certain opportunities, like actually being organized enough to apply to college the fall of his senior year of high school.

The college counselor at our high school is a big advocate of campus visits. So with Spring Break on the horizon we started planning an epic college visit road trips: 4-5 schools in as many states with brief stop in Canada to see some family. My son made the requisite school tour reservations (I'm told admissions offices do not appreciate working through parents) and we checked the dates with our dog sitter.

Last Friday I assured my husband that our trip was a go before he left town last weekend, but I changed my mind by the time I picked him up at the airport on Sunday.

We didn't cancel as a punishment to my son. And it's not that we feared the "fun" of the four of us being packed into my sedan for a nearly a week, knowing that at least 50% of our children would be tired/bored/hungry/grumpy. We didn't back out because of the thought of 4 near-adults sharing a single hotel room (not to mention bathroom) made us twitchy.

We cancelled because I was the driving force behind the trip. We planned to see an urban liberal arts school, an urban highly selective technical school and a technical school in a small city. All good possibilities, my son agreed, but all schools of my choosing.

My son didn't oppose any of the schools. He remains open to the thought of someday attending any one of them, but he didn't express a passion for any of them. I wouldn't say that our trip would have been a total waste of money, but I also don't think it would have been money wisely spent at this time.

If he wants to get a sense of different campuses there are plenty we can see in Chicagoland. And when he decides he wants to see a school that's far from home, we can make a visit. (Or, in the case of a certain highly selective school or two, we might wait until he gets accepted before planning a campus tour.) Maybe it won't be a big family trip--chances are it won't. In fact, maybe he'll head off alone to a university that one of his friends attends--that's how I made my college visits.

How are you handling the college review and admissions process? How do you encourage your child to take an active role in it? And doesn't this seem so much more intense than when we went through it?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Why Your Kid Should Apply to Harvard

First off, I'm hosting a  #STEMchat tonight (3/5) on Twitter. The Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is sponsoring this chat on the science of everyday life. If you have a middle schooler, encourage them to participate in fabulous competition (click the link for entry details). Things are set for the chat and I've finished up a few other projects which means my mind has room to wander again and college admissions is one of the first places it goes.

The college recruitment mail has been showing up at our house since my oldest son took the PSAT as a sophomore. This means that a steady stream has been arriving for over a year, much of it in the form of glossy brochures. Shout-out to Harvey Mudd College for a cool GIF-worthy piece with a lenticular image.

Most of the colorful pieces blur together, ultimately landing in pile like the one pictured. Maybe he's saving them for a big bonfire after he commits to a school? Only a few are actually opened and examined.

The other day he received mail from Northwestern, some school in Michigan claiming to be a perfect fit, and Harvard. The Harvard piece stood out because it didn't look slick or glossy, but did resemble the kind of large envelope one might equate with a college acceptance package.

I admit, my curiosity was piqued and I opened it. I mean, A) I knew it wasn't an acceptance letter and B) he opens almost none of this stuff; it was doomed to be ignored like the rest. Wait, did I just confess to a federal crime?

Let me tell you about the contents before the fed take me away. There was a letter, addressed to  Mr. Moldofsky (so fancy!), encouraging him to explore what Harvard has to offer. It shared a few highlights and noted their "revolutionary financial aid." That hooked me.

I moved on to the enclosed brochures. "Wow," I thought. "Their brochure features students of color." Oh wait, it's the financial aid brochure.

(I mentioned this on Facebook, which led to a friend posting this piece about colleges relying on Photoshop tools to accentuate their diversity.)

It wasn't really a brochure, so much as a fancy, full-color fold-out flyer. What was really impressive was what was inside. Check out these fun and encouraging facts about financial aid at Harvard. These are pulled straight from the piece:

  • If your family income is below $65,000 your parents are expected to contribute nothing to the cost of your education.
  • Families with incomes from $65,000 to $150,000 normally contribute between 0-10% of their income. Those with higher incomes often find that need-based aid is still available.
  • Your financial aid award accounts for the total cost of attending including tuition, books, and allowances toward personal and travel expenses.
  • Students are not expected to take out loans, and most students graduate debt-free.
  • Applying for financial aid does not negatively affect your chance for admission.
The letter noted that nearly 60% of students at Harvard receive financial aid and that their families pay an average of $12,000 per year and their students don't take out loans.

I don't know how this plays out on campus in terms of the haves and have-nots, but this seems like a big step in trying to level the playing field for low-income and, what do we call it, low-upper-middle class-income families.