By Lisa Smith Molinari
It’s college decision time. But before parents of high school seniors engage each other in conversation, take heed! You are about to step into a veritable quagmire of double entendre regarding the seemingly innocuous topic of your child’s college pick.
One might think that discussing college decisions is as simple as:
Parent #1: “What college will your son/daughter attend in the fall?”
Parent #2: “He/she will attend XYZ University.”
Parent #1: “Oh, that’s swell.”
But, BEWARE. Hidden beneath this rudimentary exchange is an underground strata of complex connotations and confidential context.
How do I, a parent of a high school senior, know this already? During our last few tours of duty, my family has had many “empty nesters” as neighbors in military base housing. I have found that there is much to be learned by observing this unique breed of parent.
No, they don’t collect twigs, preen their feathers or engage in elaborate mating rituals….well, not that I know of anyway. But, empty nesters have “been there, done that” when it comes to parenting. Interacting with these seasoned veterans around backyard fire pits and at the dog park has taught me that some things in life are not as simple as they seem.
In order to help other parents, like myself, who will soon be expected to tell friends, relatives and colleagues about their children’s college picks, I will pass on the college talk tips I have gleaned from more experienced parents.
Most importantly, when people ask, “What college did Little Suzie decide to go to?” they really want to know, “Did she get any rejection letters?” And when you answer, “Little Suzie is going to State,” they are tabulating all prior conversations in an attempt to figure out which schools gave your kid the Heisman.
In order to diffuse their natural curiosity, it’s best to be frank. Tell them which schools, if any, declined to accept your child’s application for enrollment. However, do not be tempted to add, “We’re actually happy that Little Johnny didn’t get into Ivy U. It just wasn’t the right fit for him.” The listener will only hear, “Little Johnny’s ‘Ds’ in Chemistry came back to bite him, and besides, those ivy leaguers are so stuck up.”
Also, although it is considered gauche for friends to discuss money matters in the civilian world, talking about personal finances is quite common in the military community. Thanks to clearly defined rank structures, we military folks know each other’s pay grade. Regardless, be careful when discussing college expenses with friends and neighbors. As soon as they find out that your child’s college costs upwards of fifty grand a year or more, they will wonder how on earth you’re gonna paying for it.
You may wish to remain silent, and let them speculate that your child was offered a scholarship for some hidden talent like didgeridoo playing or curling. In a vacuum of information, your friends might think that you’ve got some long lost rich great uncle who graced you with a gazillion dollar trust fund; but this might be hard to believe if you drive a used minivan and buy buns from the day-old rack at the commissary. Or, they might guess that your family’s heritage includes a recruitable ethnicity, like the long lost peoples of the Siberian Pot Belly Tribe.
But most likely, unless you tell your friends and family you are paying for college with the GI Bill, loans, your Thrift Savings Plans or your 529 plans, they’re going to think you’re planning to: sell your earthly possessions; take the night shift at the local 7-11; and move the family into a cardboard box over a heating grate in order to pay for college.
Most parents have faced or will face the daunting college application process, and as long as you deliver the news of your child’s decision without pretense, you will be met with understanding. Honesty is clearly the best policy to stop wondering minds from wandering to the absurd.
My child? He was rejected from two [stuck up] schools and accepted by six [fine academic institutions]. He has decided to go to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. We are using the GI Bill. And yes, it’s really swell.
If you have a college-bound family member, here are some resources for you: