First of all, congrats: your child got into not only one somewhere but–an assumption I’m making because you’re reading this entry–multiple somewheres! Remember how anxious you felt about that? How uncertain? (The metaphor I used with friends was that I felt like an abandoned toddler in a wet diaper, in down town Manhattan.) So, yes, s/he will not have to manufacture meth in a van down by the river in order to survive. Given that, here are some principles for guiding the decision making process the rest of the way.
#1: Take the time and energy to celebrate! It’s so easy to rush and to move on to the next hurdle. As the hurdles never end, take a break from the race and savor. Your baby did it!!
#2: Decide what money you are prepared to offer to fund your child’s college. Perhaps you are willing to fund any of the choices. If not, front load this in the conversation: “Becky, as we consider our choices, lets keep in mind that we (parent, parents, grandparent, etc) can fund X a year. So, if your choice’s tuition is over that we (as in Becky also) would have to have a viable plan in place for making up the difference before sending in a deposit.” Your prospective college student may still be thinking like a child: this is mom and dad’s problem to solve. If so, you may need to grow him or her up quickly in this regard.
#3: Don’t be shy about being in touch with the financial aide office of the institution(s) for help if what they are offering is short of what you can afford, especially if you have cause to believe that they look upon your child as a desirable applicant. They can also be a wonderful source of information regarding private scholarships and other sorts of funding options that may be available, as can your child’s high school guidance office.
#4: Listen and provide empathy before sharing your perspective. For the rest of your child’s life, this will usually be an ideal opening position. And, don’t rush getting to your perspective, even over the course of days or weeks. Of course, don’t avoid getting there either. (Don’t worry too much if you falter with this sometimes It’s more about the earnest effort to pull it off more than it is about batting 1.000.)
#5: Consider another visit to your child’s top choices. You’ve likely already been to the campuses but a re-visit, from the lens of this decision, can be very helpful. Try on this visit to have a deeper experience (e.g., attending a lecture in the planned major or in a required course, arranging for your child to stay overnight). Many institutions have such days planned for those students to whom they’ve made an offer. If your institutions doesn’t, ask. And, don’t be shy about asking if they’d be willing to cover your costs as well (some even offer this up front).
#7: There are almost an endless stream of data points to consider (e.g., who has the better library, the better athletic facilities, the number of faculty with this or that distinction) and families vary wildly in terms of who prioritizes what. However, one stat out there that can be helpful in this context is the freshman retention rate. This statistic regards the number of freshman who become sophomores at that institution, which is a general measure of student/family satisfaction and institutional effectiveness. While this number generally looks high across institutions, the ones you are considering may have some notable differences in this statistic. (You can find this statistic and US News and World Reports’ website that ranks colleges.)
#8: If you’re “lucky” (I think it was Thomas Jefferson who first noted the connection between working hard and luck), the decision-makes will ultimately all have the same opinion about which offer to accept. If not, things can get very tricky. My default suggestion would be to defer to your child’s decision. S/he either is a legal adult or is about to become a legal adult (I know, a tough idea to wrap your mind around…or at least it is for this dad), so s/he will the one to experience the good, the bad and the indifferent consequences of this decision. It seems to me that it wouldn’t be fair for him or her to be in the position to experience any potential qualified or poor outcomes based on someone else’s perspective, no matter how well reasoned and intended. Keep in mind that this recommendation supposes two things are true: you’ve made all of the relevant data available to your child, including the opinions and reasoning of adults involved, and you are respecting your own boundaries regarding how much money you will be investing.
#9: Once the deposit has been sent in, and the decision made, try to avoid second-guessing…forever, even in your own mind. Second guessing with your child risks generating significant tension between the two of you. Second-guessing in your mind is like chewing on glass. You did due diligence. You put all the resources you could into the decision. That’s all anyone can do. So, either enjoy your wisdom (i.e., evidence that the right choice was made) or practice the Serenity Prayer and let it go.
My first-born daughter is a senior who got offers from several institutions that she adores. So, I’m living with this issue these days as well and know it ain’t easy!
By the way, are any of you, who are also parents of first-born seniors, also wondering how the heck you’re going to get through having your baby move out? We all need a support group!