Guest Column

Guest Column: The Great "Wait" of the College Process

Credits: Sean MacEntee on flickr

"The Great Wait" of the College Application Process

For all the high school seniors and their parents, we are in the stressful "waiting period".  We've just finished or are finishing applications to all the schools we might possibly want to attend next year and now sit and wait our fate after the $60-$80 non-refundable application fees to at least 8-13 schools and staring at some pretty ridiculous tuition fees.

Early decisions trickle in and the buzz around town and school is who got in where, who got in/deferred/denied and who is thrilled or heartbroken already.  And it is really hard to keep your clarity right about now.  "How did he get in and my child didn't?!"..."She thinks she's that smart to apply there?!"  There is a human factor to acceptances that we so easily forget.  An application read on Monday gets accepted but by Wednesday a similar application gets denied.  There are so many factors, everyone needs to remember a denial is not personal. (But it's hard!)

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But something has to change.  To be in the thick of this process, you need tough skin and a rational brain.  From about the spring of junior year, students and parents are just going through the academic year doing all the right things.  Then suddenly there's a huge concern---the GPA is not where it should/could be.  Honor Society is a MUST.  Honor Roll and High Honor Roll are necessary every single marking period.  And just how many AP classes are impressive enough?  ADULTS get too caught up in the process and our thoughts on what brand name school is being discussed is a problem.  WE are making the top schools very profitable, allowing 13 application fees.  WE put them on pedestals and rank them, with students hearing from model adults what school is 'good' and which are not so impressive.  Word to the wise, be very careful of your personal ratings of a school in mixed company--"Rutgers is my safety school"...that is someone else's "reach" or "dream" school and alumni from any school don't appreciate condescending comments.

As the stakes rise over the four years of high school, so does the pressure on the student.  Work gets shared between peers just to get the assignment done.  Ways to beat the quiz or test are formulated harder than studying for the test.  Grade bartering with teachers for extra credit or a few free points is a common "teacher meeting" right before the end of the marking period.  All hands on deck come out to scrape for the almighty A.  Students suddenly feel the push to hurry up and choose a great school.  How can your 18 year old NOT have a favorite choice or know why they are going?  By November of senior year the number one question students get the rest of their school year is, "so what college/school are you going to?" (total assumption they are going to college and the student is scared they wont impress you with their answer!)

In an earlier article published about 2 years ago, I had covered the issues with "children" being tossed into large, expensive environments to figure out what they plan to do with the rest of their life; if they didn't already know.  That article had thoughts about discussing the college experience with your student.  If they are willing to spend up to $70,000 a year (from grandpa or parents or a steep loan they are willing to pay back) at an institution for higher learning, they have better done their research, make very wise decisions and utilize every single point of support that institution has to offer!  Nowadays, transferring will cost far too much in time and money.  The name of the game is to get in and out in 4 years...or less!  And then, attain immediate employment!

The overwhelming feeling that grows is the future student loan crash. With schools charging outrageous prices to educate our future work force, how can anyone raising a couple kids in a modest home with a modest lifestyle EVER save enough to pay for ONE semester much less 8 of them (or more!)?  Why do colleges even require students to pay for 120 credits when only about 60-80 are related to their intended degree?  I didn't want to pay for Sci 205: Plants of the Galapagos Islands or Arts 103: Music Appreciation for my student majoring in Communications. I have heard the argument that college is for 'education' and not job prep--find me a person willing to spend this money just for educating their brain!  And the days of taking a class at your County College during summer break are gone.  Schools realize they don't have to accept another school's credits when you didn't pay them.  Where is it fair to charge a student even $50,000 a year to be anything less than a Wall Street CEO who might have a chance at paying off that education in reasonable time?  What about a teacher who starts their career making less than it costs to attend a year of college?  There are too many established professionals who carry student loan debt well into their 40's!  Parents who haven't yet wrestled this post secondary education system ask 'how can parents start their child off in adult life in debt?'--MANY have no choice as seen by student loan debt outweighing credit card debt in the US.

For those that choose to continue their education via 4 year college programs, something must change and soon. 

First, our value on the name and reputation of a school must be broken.  How can the books and course curriculum at a $50,000 a year school be that much worse than the books and course curriculum at a $70,000 a year school?  How can the "hot" school charge a non-refundable application fee of $80 and a large state school charge $60?  WHY are these schools even charging an application fee that they keep weather you get accepted or denied--aren't we paying a ridiculous tuition fee for 4 (or more) years?! It seems like a donation to their new athletic facility or the construction of a state of the art dorm for some other students! 

Second, our students need to consider other worthy options as well.  Do you really need the school 10 hours away requiring a flight and out of state ridiculous tuition rather than the state school--is it worth the years of debt or strain on your family adding commuting costs for the price-gauged Thanksgiving holiday for 4 days home?  Are you even interested in a profession that requires a degree since the best lifestyles around are the plumbers, electricians, masons, etc. that always have a job.  Trade school is too often overlooked and the opportunity to be your own boss or entrepreneur is only considered through Business School! 

Third, our college "money making" business needs to end.  From all the ridiculous fees required for entrance (tutoring, testing, college counselors, sending scores, electronic applications, CSS filing fees) to the "new" acceptance money generator:  "Your acceptance to our school would begin in the Fall after your completion of 10 credits on our campus during the summer."  This scheme fills their beds, keeps their campus alive and entices you to spend another $10,000 or so--for a summer your student cant work fully!

Fourth, the federal government, Sallie Mae, banks and other lenders must get a grip on lending this ridiculous money and stop charging interest rates higher than a conventional home mortgage!  How will graduates ever make ends meet at the very start of their career?!  Europe has it under control.  Pick 5 (yes only 5!) universities you would like to 'apply' to.  Acceptances are given at the end of the school year and you enroll in your favorite choice--at a fraction of what a US school would cost.  Upon graduation, you only begin paying your loan back after you are gainfully employed and reach a certain income (a.k.a. when you can afford it!)  Instead, here in the US we pay to be tested for college (numerous times), pay for tutors and classes to help us ace those tests, pay college counselors to edit our applications and navigate things for us, pay for a couple of digits to be sent electronically to the 8-13 schools applied to, pay to apply for admission to 8-13 schools, pay to tour all of our choices of schools and buy a $50 sweatshirt at their bookstore, finally put down our $500 deposit by May 1 and then pay for YEARS to attend a school that will educate us enough to enter the work force--most likely underemployed just to have income to pay the loan with interest that kicks in 6 months after graduation. 

All sounds kind of crazy now...!

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer. Click here to submit a Guest Column.

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