A few parents leave everything up to their student. “Fred knows what’s best for Fred.” (He is 17; no, he doesn’t). One mum wasn’t able to say where her daughter was applying, or what her SAT scores or academic average from school were. (No, she hadn’t just filed the information; she’d never had it). Encouraging independence is a good principle, but there’s every chance a parent knows their child better than they know themselves. Further, teenagers need your guidance based on many more years of experience and insights. They do look to you for your reactions to situations, particularly school visits and people you meet. Sadly, leaving it all up to the student has resulted in zero offers or a less-than-satisfactory experience ultimately requiring a transfer.
Conversely, a very few parents take full control and leave nothing to their child. This was the approach of parents involved in the recent college admissions scandal in which parents paid for others to “fix” their children’s SAT scores or bribed coaches to recruit non-athletes. I am confident that no readers of this publication would dream of doing such a disservice to their offspring, but for a Canadian applying to the U.S., the student really has to buy into the notion of living in another country and have some say in their preferences in where they can see themselves for four years. It’s a major life decision, and finding a good balance between the student’s wishes and parents’ sound advice is a challenge. You may benefit from outside, impartial advice in gaining greater clarity.
The good old “Any club accepting me as a member, I wouldn’t want to join” (was it Mark Twain? Groucho Marks? Both?) approach to college admissions can affect parents as much as our brand-conscious students. Of course, parents don’t want to pay hefty fees in U.S. dollars for a mediocre experience, but because a school isn’t Ivy League or you haven’t heard of it before doesn’t mean your child won’t receive an amazing education leading to the career of their dreams. I compare it to blockbuster movies vs. the Toronto Film Festival’s offerings. Everyone knows the big stars and the productions getting all the publicity. Aficionados know that the true works of art that change your way of looking at life aren’t necessarily the best-known films, and they do their research to find the real gems. Consider, for example, the liberal arts and all-women’s hidden treasures. The world of academia already knows about them, and you don’t need to worry about their being “unknown” when applying to graduate school.
With athletes, some families won’t accept a great offer because they notice that the college team hasn’t been doing that well, and they think it’s not worth their attention. Remember, the composition of each team changes each year, with the graduation of the senior class and the addition of incoming freshmen, not to mention an occasional player from another class that may get injured or just quit. Besides, with your talented child on the team, they are sure to be much more successful. You will want to ensure, however, with your years of experience in identifying trustworthy adults, that you are comfortable with the coach who will be in charge.
In calculating expenditures, consider more than just the college costs themselves. An expensive college more easily accessed from home may end up being cheaper in the long run than one requiring a flight (or two!) to get to. Consider the costs over four years of traveling to and fro at least twice, maybe even three times per year for Christmas, spring break, and summer vacations. What if there’s an emergency or a wonderful event at home in the middle of the school year? Are there options? If mom and dad can’t drive down to pick you up, is there bus, train or airline service available in a pinch? One family, feeling uncomfortable with the connection necessary from the Washington, D.C. train station, decided to nix an offer from the University of Virginia and accept one nearer to home instead. Another family, frequently driving down to visit friends in the Charlottesville area, found UVA a perfect location for their travels and happily enrolled their daughter.
As well as financial concerns, calculate time spent travelling. With the inclement weather we’re having, anticipate that icy roads, a fogged-in airport, floods --- you name it --- are sure to happen at least once to waste time, frustrate travellers and potentially add to costs.
A visit to campus will help you determine how easy it is to get there from here.