History Repeats Itself

Since I have worked with students and parents for over 25 years around issues of college financing, I have known for some time that I was nearing an interesting point in my career.  My son is now a high school junior.  For the first time I will be seeing many things with fresh eyes!  This year as I am talking with families about the PSAT or college visits, I have a specific face in mind.  I thought it would be interesting to write about what this is like for me.  I wonder what, if anything, will change in how I talk about this process with families once I go through it myself.

Last Sunday, I took my son (and younger daughter) to UMass Amherst prospective students' Open House.  Hearing UMass administrators and students talk about what is going on at UMass today brought me back to my time there in the 1980's.  While the classrooms, social issues, and conversation about what is/isn't served in the dining halls is different, the hard work, the optimism, and energy are similar.  I feel excited for what my son has ahead of him for the next phase of his life.

Something one of the directors of admissions said stood out to me among the many take-aways of the day. He told us that students are in class for roughly 16 hours a week. He added as contrast that in high school students hit the 16-hour mark mid-day on Wednesday. This made me realize the importance of students considering what else they will do with their time while in college and the importance of the campus activities, clubs, work, and research opportunities. Of course there is studying that will take time, but students need to consider everything else a college can offer them to help them begin to create their lives and set them up for the future.

This fact also hit me as it relates to my work talking with families about college costs and paying the college bill. Some thoughts and advice that we, at MEFA, share with families are reinforced in hearing this 16-hour statistic.The first is that many times we hear parents voice a concern about letting their children work during the first year of college. Parents worry if the student can keep up academically and hold a job. To this I usually respond by quoting one of my college administrator colleagues who always says to parents, "Just because your child isn't working, doesn't mean s/he is studying."  The second is that we encourage families to begin 'kitchen table conversations' early on.  Paying for college is a family affair and students should understand that finances may be one factor in the college decision.

Parents can focus on the support they will give to their children in many other ways and let them know that together they will make a decision the student will be happy with and the family will be able to afford.  Students must also realize the opportunities in front of them and that they will get out of college what they put into it.