My youngest child is beginning the college application process. Both of his siblings went to Virginia state colleges: his brother graduated last year and his sister is in her fourth year. In total, I’ve sat in ten college information sessions, toured nine campuses, and helped submit ten applications—all Virginia state schools. Why look elsewhere when our state has a wealth of great colleges and our bank account has a dearth of money?
As usual, my experience has made me a know-it-all. So, for rookie parent and students starting their college search, I have some words of wisdom. Two words, in fact: Don’t Assume.
1. Don’t assume that because your child graduated from a Virginia high school and lived in Virginia all his life that he’ll get into the Virginia state college of his choice. Unless, of course, he graduated with a 24.87 GPA, published translations of 17th century Russian poetry, discovered a solar system, and moved to another state so he has a better chance of getting into the Virginia state college of his choice. Here, there is no such thing as a safety school.
2. Don’t assume that the parents who shout out questions during college information sessions are typical . In reality, we don’t all need to know about Honors Program, Honors Housing, Honors Dining, Honors Gym Facilities, Honors shower flipflops, and Honors Microfridges.
3. Don’t assume your child remembered to change the name of the college each time he cut and pasted his personal statement into each application.
4. Don’t assume the tuition and room/board amount covers everything.
4a) Tuition: don’t assume it includes the cost of textbooks, which apparently are laboriously handwritten with saffron ink and bound with gold.
4b) Housing: don’t assume your child will be able, or willing, to live on-campus all four years. Rule of thumb: cost of off-campus housing = cost of college room/board x number of reallys used to describe the apartment’s awesomeness and convenience. Note: your security deposit is a sucker bet (i.e kiss it goodbye). We once lost a deposit because we left the phonebook in the hall closet. A co-worker lost hers because of leaves on her son’s balcony. Landlords use security deposit sucker bets to pay locals to talk up the property’s awesomeness and convenience.
5. Don’t assume all the required application documentation is received by the college admissions office. My friend’s son counted on getting accepted via Early Decision to his first-choice college. What he didn’t count on was his transcript languishing on his high school advisor’s desk two weeks after the deadline.
6. Don’t assume the college of your child’s dreams offers the program of his dreams. My daughter’s first acceptance was a binding decision to a Virginia university. Through pure dumb luck, a month later I found out the college dropped her intended program – a development so recent, I was the one who clued-in the department dean.
7. Don’t assume tour guides accurately represent a college. During one my nephew’s tours, a guide pointed out “great places to party” on campus, including hotspot examples complete with empty beer bottles. My most memorable tour guide moment: while visiting a typical dorm room, I asked the guide what would happen if my daughter’s roommate wanted a boyfriend to stay overnight. My mortified daughter backed into the common area when the guide enthusiastically replied, “Oh, don’t worry! Most RA’s look the other way, so that would be, like, totally okay. It happens, like, ALL the time!” The collective gasp from the other parents sent ripples through the cheap aluminum blinds.
8. Don’t assume your child will get scholarships. I have yet to meet a parent whose child got as much as they deserved or counted on, which is why there are student loans and jobs in the cafeteria.
9. Don’t assume that you’ll get through even one information session without choking up. It doesn’t get easier.
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