I received an email yesterday from a mom in Southern California, whose daughter Nicole is getting grief about the Southern universities that she has applied to. Karen’s email raises a lot of interesting issues including preconceived notions about schools, the tendency of some parent(s) to push kids to attend their alma mater or state schools and a lack of understanding of how you can find schools that are more affordable. Aiming too high academically, for instance, can result in a teenager getting aid packages stuffed with $55,000 worth of loans.
I’d love for you to read Karen’s note and share your thoughts in the comment box below. Karen covers a lot in this note and I’m eager to read what you think! I will comment on the letter in my post tomorrow.
Email from a Concerned Mom
Thank you for your advice on this website and the books. I have tried to incorporate the knowledge that I’ve learned in helping my daughter, who is a senior. We went to South and North Carolina to visit some smaller schools first (Furman, Elon, Davidson) and took a detour to Clemson. The other schools were too small for her and she did like Clemson – so we started to look at schools a bit larger including Texas Christian University and Southern Methodist University.
With their lower costs and merit scholarships, our cost would be close to what we would pay for a University of California campus. We are still waiting to hear back from others including Baylor University (which has a scholarship calculator on its website) and she is expecting merit aid from that school too. I am sure she will receive flak for Baylor as well.
Nicole’s Merit Awards
Here is what she has gotten so far:
Texas Christian University (60k scholarship -15k a yr)
Southern Methodist University (48k scholarship – 12k a yr)
Clemson University (40k scholarship – 10k a yr)
University of San Diego ($0)
She has received the most negative comments about Clemson and TCU. She really liked both schools when we visited them and both schools have Honors Colleges and Residences. Clemson is a bit larger than what she was looking for, but the honor colleges and residences make the school seem smaller.
Why the Criticism?
I think most of the criticism is triggered by the rankings and locations – South versus Northeast. Somehow anything in the Northeast must be better! Also, many here in California are just not used to going to a different state for school and since many at my daughter’s school are first generation – the parents go by rankings and name. We used to live in Kansas City and most of her friends there already have selected Kansas State or University of Kansas. Our old neighbor’s daughter went to St. Olaf College. and many there also wondered why. I guess it is just that most kids usually stay close to home for college even in Kansas.
When we first started to look, the kids just made fun of her for looking at Furman and Elon – definitely schools not known out here! I was impressed by the schools and wished she would have liked them!
We have used the tools for looking for schools with smaller class sizes, learning-based communities and those offering merit aid. She has also learned about applying to the right schools and being realistic about matching up her grades, extracurriculars and test scores with universities.
My daughter has seen too many kids apply to schools even though they barely made the bottom of the 25-75% range. They are disappointed when they have gotten rejection letters or received no merit money. We have also witnessed how family income comes into play. She has seen many wealthy kids from our area get into Ivies (or other Ivy top tier) with stats a bit lower than some of her friends who were rejected even though they are National Merit scholars with perfect GPA’s and near perfect SAT’s, but who need aid.
Why Not USC?
While my daughter is pretty much sold on the idea of attending one of the schools on her list, the status and name issue keeps creeping in not only by her peers, but teachers and family members. First, I am dealing with my husband’s family, who are LA natives. My husband and his family attended University of Southern California for both their undergraduate and graduate work. Consequently, Nicole is not only battling the argument that one can only get a job attending a “name school,” but also that USC offers greater opportunities. And then there is the distance issue. My mother- in-law believes kids should only attend college within a one-hour drive away from home so they can return every weekend and you can easily go take care of your kids if they are sick. Hence my search for out-of-state colleges, gasp, that are not considered good, has been very alien to them.
My research shows that USC is different than it was in the 1950’s and the 1980’s when the relatives attended. My husband’s family got a lot of money to send their kids there. So I was able to show that the SAT range has gone up more than 300 points since then, and while my husband’s scores were in the upper 25% range then, our daughter with better SAT & ACT scores and higher GPA’s than her dad, is not in the upper 25% range now.
Pressure from Her Teachers for Big Name Schools
Her teachers and peers have commented to her about her acceptances into some of these schools as “I thought you are smart.” She is in the top 3% of her school in Irvine – her 2012 class has 14 National Merit Scholars, and in last year’s class there were large numbers of students that went to the Ivies, UCLA and UC Berkeley. Her one teacher pushed her to apply to Duke University. She does like the school and she applied. She is practical and has thought about later that they only accept 2 AP courses and she will have taken 9 (she has gotten 5’s on past tests), and she wouldn’t get merit money (not in the top 25%), so this would be very expensive. So she is now thinking that since she is majoring in the sciences and plans to go to grad school in the health field, she needs to balance undergraduate cost with educational experience and it wouldn’t be wise to get into debt over Duke. However, here is what she is being told – you have a better chance at grad school acceptances or med school going to Duke, UCLA, or USC.
Greater Competition This Year
I guess we are also noticing that she is in a very competitive graduation class – the application stats of the students at the places she has been applying are greater than in years prior. In the past with her resume, she may have earned a full ride at some of these places, but is getting 10-15k off per year ($40k-$60k scholarships) instead at many of the schools she targeted. Also, the economy maybe pushing high-achieving kids to look and apply at schools offering merit money more so than in the past. She also applied and got into University of San Diego; however in the past many kids she knows got over 20k off with lower stats and extracurriculas, and she got in and didn’t get merit offers (as of now). She was going to use that as a local backup if she could get the costs to a UC level! But it seems there is more money out-of-state since many of her peers will not apply out of state so more competition here!
If you have input in your columns about how to handle legacy parents and grandparents, going away to school and how to handle the “name” game with schools and teachers, I would greatly appreciate it. And again, thank you – at least she said she knows she is going to school and she likes where she has gotten in so far!
What Do You Think?
Okay folks, I’d love for you to weigh in on any aspect of Karen’s note. Please respond in the box below.