Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dream School versus reality

I like to skim College Confidential to see if there are any interview questions people have that I'm not answering.

But today, I saw a post that I wanted to address because it is so indicative both of our economic climate, and the lengths parents are willing to go to for their kids.

It came from a parent whose daughter had been admitted to her top choice school, but the financials just weren't working out. The choice was between letting a hard-fought-for acceptance letter go to waste, or selling a home.

I have two thoughts here -

First, the parents should NEVER bear the brunt of this sacrifice - if the daughter is determined to pursue a specific (and expensive) school, she should also make an adult decision about taking on the financial burden that goes with it. As implied in this NYT piece, that burden is not always worth it.

Second, the thinking that there is only one "Dream School" is narrow and dangerous. The sooner parents can help their kids get off that track, the better.

College lasts for four years, and then it's over. And what comes next? "Dream" jobs, "dream" grad schools, "dream" fellowships? There are so many dreams out there that hinging end-all-be-all unrealistic expectations on a four year chunk of your child's life is damaging.

Here's a story: A friend of mine wanted to go to Harvard so badly that she transferred from another Ivy League school her sophomore year. She didn't like it. Her junior year, she left Harvard and transferred back.

I know other students who were very unhappy at Harvard. Natalie Portman has been quoted in interviews as describing her time there as a really tough four years of her life.

Then, of course, there are a great many of us who loved it - who felt stimulated, nurtured and treasured every moment there. Who became more confident, more mature and more capable as a result of the unique experiences Harvard had to offer.

Personally, I loved it. But it was expensive. After scholarship and financial aid, it still cost my parents $100k out of pocket over the course of four years. To immigrants who were once terrified to go into debt to buy a house, it was a dizzying sum. But they scrimped and made the payments each month anyway, and four years later they got to hang a Harvard diploma on the wall of their house.

When I graduated, I went to work in finance. The Harvard degree made it easier to land a series of plum jobs, and by the time I was twenty-five I had (easily) saved the $100k necessary to repay my parents, though it had never been their intention to offer the money as a loan.

What's the moral?

There's no such thing as a free ride. Somebody has to pay for it at some point - if your child wants to go to a "dream" school badly enough, then she should also understand the debt that comes with it may require her to do something other than writing a novel or going on archeological digs in Egypt after college. If she's not ready to sacrifice her ideal career path, then she needs to do it at a different school.

This may seem unfair, even tough. But remember, life after college is chock-full of these kinds of choices, and the sooner a young adult is faced with them, and learns to tackle them head-on, the stronger she will be as a person and the better able to navigate through life.

1 comment:

  1. Most time people, like you tends to use some specific case to generalize the overall experience. It is sad but common practice.

    I don't know what's the percentage of student who has been in H but does not like it at all. But I can say that big majority students and other public media ranked H as the top 1 or 2 school with a very solid good reason. It is like to buy a product. The chance that you will be satisfied is very high. Four years is short. Before you find out whether a school is the one you like, every one in your age group is moving forward already. You are going to be left behind and keep wondering which school is fit to you, which job is fit to you, and which life style is fit to you, by the time you figure it out, you have no chance to do it anymore, you are old and waiting for the retirement benefit.