My daughter, Katie, and I went to college shopping two weeks ago and I found the experience exhilarating, terrifying and sad all at the same time.
We got in the car early on a Friday morning and drove to Whitewater. After two hours of being on campus Katie turned to me and said, “Mom, I can’t see myself here. It’s too much in the middle of nowhere. I’ll get bored.” Her nowhere, quite frankly seemed like a serene place to me, but I wasn’t going to argue with her. This trip wasn’t about me. “Let’s go to Milwaukee then, I know they have an open house today too.”
So back to the city we went.
And she loved it. She loved the fireside chat with the dean of letters and science, meeting the people from the biochemistry program, and that she ran into friends on campus. During lunch, we talked about how we were going to pay for it. And the conversation went something like this….
Katie: Noel, Rina and I want to live together on campus.
Me: So you’ve thought this through.
Katie: Yes, but don’t worry… they’ll help keep me focused.
Me: Do you know how much that costs?
Katie: A couple hundred a month?
Me: Try $1,000 a month at least.
Katie: Don’t you and dad have money for me for college?
Me: About enough to get you through the first year if you live on campus.
Katie: Look of disappointment.
She could get loans, grants or scholarships I explained, but quite frankly she needs to imagine what kind of life she wants for herself. You don’t have to know all of the details, but the more detailed and focused you can be the better. The reason being is that you’ll need to figure out what employers want and understand how that matches up to your interests and abilities. But the bottom line is: you need to understand the costs and how you can minimize those as much as possible. College is an investment in you, but it’s not going to mean anything if you can’t put that knowledge to work. Now you could start your own business or find a job, but you need to find a purpose for having that knowledge.
Do you want to be saddled by debt that you may not be able to afford if you can’t get a job right away?
Sure you can go away to college, live in a dorm with people you don’t know, do unspeakable things your mother will never know about, and come out of it with a diploma and $60,000 in debt. And you may have been extremely successful in your ability to learn those things. But if you take out loans and don’t get a job right away, you’ll still be responsible for paying for it.
Katie: How will I do that?
Me: You’ll have to move back home and work.
Katie: More disappointment.
I could tell I was bursting her bubble. But I don’t think I would be doing the right thing as a parent if I didn’t spell out the reality.
When I went to school in Ohio, tuition was $2,500. I paid for my entire first year of college with the money I had raised by selling my animals at auction for 4-H during our County Fair for six years. When I moved to Wisconsin and attended UW-Milwaukee, out-of-state tuition was $5,000. So, I made enough from my tutoring job to pay for about ½ of that, so I took a loan out for the rest. That number seemed daunting then, but there were still jobs.
The terrifying thing is, I know my kid is smart enough, and dedicated enough to finish college. But the fact remains, she can live at home while she’s in college and not have much debt to worry about or she can go away and have a lot of debt to worry about; all of that may be irrelevant if she can’t find a job.
But the sad part is: if she does nothing, she likely won't have a good paying job.