When I was in high school and college application time rolled around, I sat nervously in my AP Biology class as the teacher went around the room and asked each student how many schools we were applying to and which one we were really hoping to get into. As kids rattled off big numbers and named schools that I had never even heard of, I asked to go to the bathroom. I didn't want to inform my entire class that I was only applying to one school, lest they start asking questions and I'd have to explain that my parents had only given me two options: attend a community college or a state school.
I never traveled to visit schools with gorgeous sprawling campuses made up of clusters of historical, ivy-draped buildings. Where I was going, there were no dorm rooms that boasted wood-paneled walls or fireplaces. In fact, there would be no dorm room for me at all. I wouldn't be shopping for a mini fridge or coordinating comforters with my soon-to-be roommate from across the country. I would be moving in with my grandmother so that I could commute to a state school — because that's where my parents could afford to send me.
With subpar test scores, no extracurriculars, and zero athletic abilities, no one was lining up to give me scholarships, and my parents wouldn't even entertain the idea of cosigning loans for me. They insisted that they weren't going to help me go into debt, nor would they put themselves in debt so I could have "the college experience" or so that they could brag about where their kid was going to school. So I took what they could offer: I attended a state school with affordable tuition and picked up a handful of credits at the local community college.
When I've shared my story with high school or college students, they usually can't fathom how my parents could have been "so mean" or "so unfair." It seems to me that some young people believe that they deserve to go to a school where tuition costs more than their parents might make in a year. A student who is currently enrolled in such a school recently told me that "good parents will do whatever they can to send their kids to college," even if it's one that they really can't afford. Well, she was partly right.
I do believe that parents should help support their children through college (if that's the path they want to take), but that might mean something different for every parent. Maybe, if they're able, it's covering the full tuition. Maybe it's just being their biggest cheerleader. Maybe it's somewhere in between. But burying themselves or their children under a mountain of student loan debt? To me, that doesn't seem like the best way to support your child, no matter how well-intentioned. Of course, the decision is unique to every family, but for my kids, I'm going to tell them exactly what my parents told me. And if that makes me "the worst mom ever" (which is what I told my mom after our conversation all those years ago), then so be it — I'll take that over saddling my kids with tons of debt.
It's been over 10 years since I graduated college. Of course, there were times when I wish that I had had at least one year of "the college experience." However, thanks to my parents, I came out of school debt-free, and I'd much prefer that over a few years living in a dorm. I find that my life has turned out exactly how I wanted it, and I applaud my parents for sticking to their principles — especially since I know some of my former high school classmates are still paying for their bachelor's degree. I'm so grateful that's not me.