Thursday, December 13, 2012

Choosing A College

(I wonder if, in this post, I will find a way to talk about "SouthLAnd", "The O.C.", or Ben McKenzie.  We shall see...)


It is that time again.  The time when kids and parents start making decisions about college for the coming school year.  It can all be very stressful and harrowing.  Kids have opinions. Parents have opinions -- which can be different than their kids' opinions.  There are finances to consider.  And to top it all off, I have heard that high school counselors are now encouraging students to apply to at least 10 schools.  TEN SCHOOLS???!!!  And most teens seem to be taking these SAT prep courses that cost about a zillion dollars.  And they are taking the test about a zillion times.  If I was in high school now, I think I'd end up in the psyche ward.  (I wonder what score Ben McKenzie got on the SAT, anyway...)

Back in my day (I graduated from high school in 1981), the PSAT was considered to be the thing -- and pretty much the only thing -- you did to practice for the SAT.  And you usually took the SAT once.  If you were very smart, you got to be a National Merit Finalist for scoring exceptionally well on the PSAT -- my husband was one of those people.  I scored in the top 10% on the PSAT, so I was not a National Merit Finalist, but I got a cute little congratulatory card.  A lot of colleges also sent me literature.  It was all a big surprise to me that this happened, and I enjoyed the attention.

Now, as I have said before, my grandparents came from the "old country" in Italy.  They had third grade educations.  Both of my parents graduated from high school and took a few college courses, but neither of them had a degree.  They did think it would make life easier on my sisters and me if we did go to college, so they encouraged us to do that.  But, there was no big pressure. (I wonder if Ben McKenzie's parents put a lot of pressure on him to go to college.)  My father also figured that the most intelligent way to get a college degree was to attend two years of junior college and then transfer to a school in the California State System.  He told us that we would save a lot of money that way and we could also live at home.  Being that he was very Italian, he felt that everyone should live at home until they married.  It was his philosophy that paying money on room/board or rent was just flushing dollars down the toilet.  He also thought that it was good for us to live with him while the wacko college professors were feeding us their wacko college professor ideas, because he figured that he could straighten us out in the evenings and on weekends.  (My family was not like the family in "The O.C."  The family in "The O.C." shares many of the same ideas as my college professors.)

In the end, I did not end up going to junior college and then transferring.  I just went straight to San Francisco State University from high school.  Why?  Because my best friend babysat for the family of a professor of that institution.  He taught Human Sexuality.  He and his wife convinced my friend and me that we should just go straight into that four-year school, bypassing the whole community college thing.  It was quite economical.  I did live at home, and I paid for my entire education by working in a hospital gift shop on weekends.  I enjoyed my time at SF State, even though the neighborhood scared me a little bit, as I was a suburban kid.  (Although, it was not nearly as bad as some of the neighborhoods in which they shoot "SouthLAnd".)

So, what is my point here?  My point is that, without a lot of angsty stressing out, and without spending the equivalent of the cost of a McMansion, my sisters and I ended up with college degrees and professions.  We all became teachers.  Which bothered my father to no end, because all of our lives he told us -- over and over again -- "Those who can, do.  Those who can't, teach."

Of course, I realize that it is no longer possible to pay for an entire college education -- even using my father's methodology -- by working in a hospital gift shop on weekends.  And I acknowledge the value of putting some careful thought into choosing a school that suits ones personality.  I have also seen -- through the experiences of my husband and children -- what a wonderful opportunity for growth going away to college can be.  I just feel bad for people when I see how much mental anguish can go into this decision.  And the amount of debt some of my kids' friends are racking up -- so they can go to the "right" school -- is a bit distressing.  (I wonder if Ben McKenzie had to take out student loans...)

I will end with the tale of my son -- Scott -- whose own college decision was a rather haphazard process, the end result of which has been quite delightful.  Thus far, anyway.

Scott really wanted to go to Thomas Aquinas College -- the school is older sister was attending.  It is a lovely institution, and offers a lovely education.   The thing is, they read about 2000 pages a day at that place and do some rather difficult math, so a relatively high SAT score is required.  

The day before Scott took the SAT (for the first time), our dog required unexpected emergency surgery for the removal of one of her eyes.  Scott was with me the whole time that was going on, and it was pretty stressful.  He didn't sleep well that night.  And he had to get up much earlier than normal the day of the test.  (As a homeschooler, he really never got up before 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning.)  He also had to eat breakfast a lot earlier than usual, which gave him a stomach ache.  He has never been a breakfast person, anyway.  He came out of the test quite dejected, telling me that he had "totally bombed" it.  And he flatly refused to take it again -- ever.

Well, he didn't totally bomb the test.  He actually did pretty well, considering the circumstances.  But, not well enough to get into Thomas Aquinas College.  I encouraged him to try again, as I think he could have scored high enough on a second go-around, but he declined.  If you know Scott, you will understand his reaction here.  If you don't know him, well...  Let's just say he is one of the most bull-headed people I have ever encountered.  As he has gotten older, this aspect of his personality has turned out to be an asset.  But, as a younger child and adolescent, it could pose a formidable challenge.

What to do, then?  I recalled a school my daughter had briefly considered when she was looking at colleges.  It was out-of-state, which is why she decided against it.  But, I remembered that it was a school that accepted kids with more average SAT scores, even giving out financial aid in the form of "opportunity grants".  Scott went for a visit and adored the place.  He has now completed three semesters, is on the Dean's List, is a Resident Assistant, and has great friends.  I have never seen him happier.

So, if you are a parent or a kid worrying about college decisions, I would encourage you to relax a little.  Do what is within your means.  Don't worry so much about whether or not you are making exactly the right decision.  Sometimes, the most wonderful things can happen in the most unexpected of ways... (I wonder if Ben McKenzie ever changed his major.) ;-)


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