Getting Your Kid into College

It’s that time, a time I knew would one day come but I guess I never quite believed it because BAM! It’s here and damn its got me on edge. My son affectionately referred to as elder boy in this blog is a high school senior and we are now in the midst of that madness known as waiting to find out where he will be going to college. Elder boy did not do early admissions, instead he sent his applications off on the regular deadline which means that unlike most of his buddies who already know where they will be presumably cooling their heels for the next 4 years we are in a holding pattern. We are in that nerve-wracking place where we must wait until late March or April to know where elder boy will be going or not going.

I am going to be honest and say this whole process is crazy and scary all wrapped into one. I have spent the last several months checking out all the websites and info of all the schools he wants to attend. Generally the information I am most interested in is how much is this shit going to cost? I know…I sound like an ass, but have you priced out your average liberal arts school that happens to be private or a state school when you aren’t a resident of that state? The University Of Vermont as an example is roughly $39,000 a year if you are not a resident, this little school also happens to be one that elder boy applied to and outside of one other school on his list, its cheapest one he applied to.

Now I don’t have many friends who have put kids through college yet, in fact I only 2 whose kids have recently competed college. I now understand why my one girlfriend worked 2 jobs while her boy was in college and this is a woman who is college educated herself with a good position. I didn’t get it, I now do…college costs are through the roof! My other friend who lives here in Maine commuted daily to her high paying job in Boston to pay the tuition on her two sons who at 2 years apart were in college at the same time. She promptly retired last year when the youngest graduated.

See, all my buddies with younger kids always say things like well little Tommy will either go to state U or he can work to put himself through school. In my state, state U is still damn near 20g’s with room and board and in a state the size of Maine there is no guarantee you will live near State U so you probably are going to need room and board. Yeah, we have campuses throughout the state but not every campus offers every program. By the way what 18-19 yo kid is getting a job that pays well enough to pay a substantial dent on the tuition? On top of going to school and presumably having a life at the same time?

No…college costs are crazy. Gone are the days for the most part where an academically stellar kid could expect substantial scholarships and Mom and Dad didn’t have to pay much. I know because lately I have been seeking out folks with college aged kids and everyone is dealing with the same sticker shock I am dealing with…my best friend recently told me how his coworker assumed that since their kid who was a straight A, plenty of extracurriculars and #2 in their graduating class, they wouldn’t be paying much. No darling, unless lil Tommy is a star athlete your chances of a free ride are pretty much gone. Yeah Tommy might get a decent chunk knocked off the bill but lets face it if you still have to pay $15-20G’s yearly for 4 years, could you afford it? Right now the only reason I might be able to afford it is that since elder boy’s Dad & I are divorced we will be splitting the costs, so hopefully that will mean something like 7-10G’s apiece.

Don’t even get me started on how costly it is just to apply to college, yeah some schools offer application waivers but if you are a middle class family at least on paper they may not be available for you. Now I have had folks suggest community college to me. I am not opposed to community college at all, I did a few semesters at one before transferring to a 4 year school and graduating but you still have to be careful. My brother went that route and in the end it still ended up costing him more money and time since not everything transferred over. There is also the fact that some kids may be cool with community college and some are not.

For my son, as a child of divorce who is academically curious about the world he wants the college experience since for the first time he can live in a place without feeling like he is being pulled by either of us (not that we have done that but he is always concerned about our feelings). He is ready to have those first steps towards independence and lets face it going to community college but living in his own pad is definitely easier said than done. It may be cheap but I have been young and I know asking him to pay rent, utilities, etc and go to school at the same time is a recipe for becoming one of the millions on Americans who start college but never finish.

At the end of the day, I think lawmakers and whoever else needs to address the fact that college has gone beyond the grasps of many…the rate at which many have saved to pay for their kids college education is not aligned in any way with the actual costs of college. More and more schools are using adjuncts who get paid jack, I know because I have been there and its a thankless job yet how many so-called middle class families can really afford to send a couple of kids to a 4 years school?

Shit, I am thinking we may need a whole overhaul in how we tie education to the world of work, after all why go to college to walk out with a debt load of 30-50G’s only to end up in a job that pays shit with few benefits. I mean the traditional ways in which a young person could expect to get a decent job and work their way up for a number of years has pretty much gone the way of the tv repairman. Instead in this brave new world, if you stay 2-3 years at a job that is a long time as employers look to maintain profits by cutting positions but that’s a whole other blog post.

So are you prepared to pay for college if your kids choose that path? I would love to hear from anyone with college aged kids and find out how you have dealt with this issue.

Education versus no education

One of things I kill time doing online is looking at blogs and discussions boards where folks discuss frugal living, it seems without fail the issue of student loans comes up. I am amazed at the number of folks who claim there is no value in paying for an education and as a result have no desire to pay for their own kid to go to college. Often these folks figure if their kid wants to go to college, said kid will find a way to make it happen.

Look, college costs may be a tad inflated, hell even the value of having a degree is not quite what it used to be but I always want to scream at these folks, have you ever lived a life where you had to support you and a kid without an education? I have and it was not pretty at all.

Elder boy was born when I was 19, for less than a year I received government assistance but as I have written in the past, I found it be such a demoralizing experience that as soon as I was able to work, I did. When my son was 2 there was a time I was working 3 jobs to put food on the table, as a high dropout at that time there was not exactly a ton of high paying gigs available. When he turned 3, I was able to secure a decent job that at that time paid well but when you have no education, a good paying job is not always something you can count on….they come and go. Just ask those folks in Michigan who have been living with the decline of the auto industry. Guys and gals who started off at a plant at 18 or 19 and put in years, enough to secure the middle class dream only to see now that the dream is gone.

I know what you are thinking, but what about the college educated folks who are in the same boat? Well the beauty of education is that if done right it can lead to many paths and for better or worse we live in a time where a piece of paper that says BA or BS still has power.

Ok, BGIM you may be thinking but why should I have to pay for my kid to get a degree? Well because child rearing doesn’t stop at 18. Maybe its because my son is less than a year away from turning 18, maybe its because I did put myself through school and will be saddled with student loan debt until I retire but for me personally I can’t see saying sorry kiddo you are 18, you figure it out.

Even in my po dunk ass state, tuition plus room and board (main campus is almost 4 hours from me so elder boy can’t commute) still costs damn near twenty thousand!!!! I don’t know about you but what sort of gig do you expect a 18 or 19 year old to get that can pay those costs and still have time to actually attend a class and maybe even study? Even  a summer gig at 40 hours a week isn’t going to add up to that sort of cash.

Now I know what you may be thinking but what about my retirement? True, you should be concerned about your retirement but maybe a better step is thinking about the cost of kids when you are doing your family planning and no I am not trying to be snarky. The reality is if you only have 1-2 kids it might be a heck of a lot easier to help your kid with college than if you have say 4-5 kids.

Personally while elder boy has no college fund I fully expect that just as I have always figured out a way to pay for things, we will figure out a way to help with college costs. In fact its funny that when baby girl starts school next year, elder boy starts college, so guess the daycare money will get moved to the college payment fund.

As parents we want the best for our kids and starting life struggling in many cases is not the best, yes at 18 they are legal adults but as someone whose own parents took that approach I can say it sucked monkey balls.

However there are options aside from college that are cheaper and they include the military, Americorps (kid can earn valauble work experience plus cash for college) , plus if you have decent community colleges a kid can always start there. Or if the kid is eager to get in the work world, there is always trade school but whatever you do, don’t just tell an 18 yo they are on their own. Its one of the few things my own folks did that still pisses me off.

I am a firm beleiver that having an education gives you options in life, I come across too many women in relationships where they never finished their education, don’t have recent job skills and in many cases feel trapped because they hate their partners but have no way to provide for themselves. I have my days where I hate the student loan debts I have but I know that if for whatever reason the Spousal Unit and I parted ways, that I have the ability to take care of me and my kids. I may have to leave Maine but education gave me options that many years ago I didn’t have…even now I have been able to use my education to do multiple things to earn money. Yes, there is always someone who earns plenty without a degree but in many cases those folks are exceptions.

So think about it, what kind of life do you want for your kids?