So, you want your kid to go to a top college?

Well, aren’t you special? You polluted the earth with your offspring, and now you want to show everyone how special your little air thief is by sending them to a first-tier school. How capital of you.

I know. I’m cruel. However, as it applies to the above paragraph, it takes one to know one. I am one. So, I know ones when I see ones.

This is obviously not going to be a law-related post. It is a post for those of you who envision your child(ren) going to a fancy-schmancy top national university (per the intrepid folks at US News). For the last year or so, I’ve lived this odyssey. It is fun at times, but, mostly, it sucks–like having kids in general. We tell ourselves that having children is a wonderful experience and we wouldn’t change it for the world. In reality, it is an experience that causes premature aging and unnecessary suffering. We devise these wonderful platitudes about raising kids in a pathetic attempt to make ourselves feel better about the misery we’ve brought upon our once-amazing lives.

If you have no kids and are reading this out of pure curiosity or chance, it is not too late to obtain a vasectomy or tubal ligation. Consider having the procedure done twice.

If you have kids who are approaching college age, then I’m sorry. Just keep telling yourself (as I tell myself) that your kids are wonderful and you couldn’t imagine life with out them, and that they make you happy………..blah blah blah. Keep repeating the mantras. Have a Xanax.

Now, let’s jump into this whole first-tier college thing before we get too depressed about the high price we pay for sexual intercourse. These are just a few thoughts I had this morning about my experiences for the past many months. It is hardly all-inclusive.

College Choice

First, your child needs to go to a college where they feel at home. They are the ones who must live, learn, experiment with drugs, and have sex at this place. Once they graduate, the college becomes part of their identity. As much as some try to deny it, we are judged by where we went to college. There is no choice but to live with it.

Your child should make a decision on college based on:

  • What college feels like “home.”
  • What they want to study.
  • What the college can do for their ability to obtain meaningful employment and contribute to society.
  • Where they want to live eventually.
  • The college’s reputation.
  • Cost and ability to pay.

None of this includes “Where mommy and daddy want me to go.” It never will.

So, what benefit do you get? After all, you’re the parent. You helped pay for this education. You worked hard, pushing little Dakota* to excel in high school to get into this expensive college. As compensation, you get to wear a t-shirt that says “_________ Mom” for four years. You must wear it sparingly, lest the parents in your community whose kids attend East-Northwest North Dakota State Wesleyan Half-Online University might think that you’re the pretentious prick you are. Once your child graduates, continuing to wear the t-shirt makes you look pathetic. That’s your only tangible benefit, and it is fleeting. I wish I could say more, but I can’t.

Some parents won’t stop talking about where their kid is going to college. Every conversation begins with “You know, my son, Dakota, is doing sooooo well at ____________. I’m just so proud of him.” Make no mistake, you become known as that jerk whose life revolves around Dakota’s accomplishments.

Encouraging and supporting your child to do well in high school is great, and all. However, college is not about you. It is about them. Don’t treat them as a 401K. Keep it in perspective.

Other notes:

If your analysis of a college includes “I just always wanted to go there..,” then your child should absolutely not go there. College is not for your vicarious needs. It is there for your child to hopefully provide future value to society. It has nothing to do with you.

There is nothing wrong with making sure your son/daughter understands that you are sending them to college in order to ensure that they will not be living at home after it is done. Emphasize that they must use their college education to find a job. You’re not a bad parent because you expect your child to act like an adult when they become an adult.

The Campus Visit

You get giddy just thinking about it, don’t you? You get to visit a college campus with Dakota, bonding and talking about their future, wonderful existence.

Nope. That’s not the way it works. Let’s review the average campus visit timeline for a better understanding.

7AM: Parent jumps out of bed, ready to visit CAMPUS! They dance around, drinking coffee, happy that the day is finally here. Teenager acts like a teenager at 7AM. They suck all the happiness out of the room.

8AM: Start driving to campus. Parent wants to chat incessantly about the campus and what-ifs about how it might be. Teenager wants parent to shut the fuck up.

8:45: Where the hell do I park? THERE’S NOWHERE TO PARK.

8:58: Finally parked at $20 per hour garage 2 miles from campus.

9:10: Covered in sweat from running to campus, arrive at admissions department briefing that was supposed to start at 9AM. Room is full of sweaty parents and kids who parked in same garage as you.

9:15: Briefing begins, led by low-paid admissions staff member. Generally, they graduated from the university within the last 5 years and were unable to find employment elsewhere.

9:15-9:30: You are told that the college is unique because of the teacher-student ratio, the innovative freshman core curriculum, the collegial atmosphere, etc, etc, etc. On your first campus visit, you are impressed by this. On your second campus visit at another university, you are amazed that they are unique in the same way. On the third visit you realize that it is all a bunch crap and every one of them is exactly the same.

9:30-9:45: Admissions requirements! This is where you’ll learn who has a chance and who doesn’t, right? Wrong. They’ll state that they use the “whole person concept” and do not solely use standardized tests and GPA. Bullshit. How can you review 30,000 applications each year and consider each as a “whole person?” You can’t. Many get chopped based on solid, objective criteria (i.e. standardized tests and GPA). Your child needs to be in the 90th percentile or above on standardized tests to have a real, solid shot. They’ll never admit this, and you may not like the reality or their denial of the same. Deal with it.

9:45: Oooh, they’re starting to talk about financial aid. You take scrupulous notes. They tout the university’s strong commitment to providing “100% of demonstrated financial need.” This makes you temporarily euphoric. Note my use of the word “temporarily.” More on this later.

9:50: A question-and-answer period. Your offspring will not have questions. If they do, they are an asshole, per teenage law. You should not ask questions, even if you have a question. That’s what the internet is for, and I promise that, if your question is truly important to a college education, something is on the googles about it. While your question may be important to you, I guarantee that it is not important to anyone else in the room.

9:51: Mother in obnoxious sweater asks whether her little zit-faced urchin will have research opportunities. Evidently, some internet site says that parents should ask about this. Let me provide a standing answer. Your child is going to be an undergrad. Their goal should be to survive as best as possible. No professor wants your unproven offspring to assist in their important studies until they at least have a college degree and are willing to pay for post-graduate studies. However, they may be able to witness research while mopping floors and cleaning urinals in the research area. That’s it.

9:54: After prefacing his question by haughtily stating where he went to college, a father asks a financial aid related question. This is answered with the “100% of demonstrated financial need” spiel.

9:56: Morbidly obese mother asks whether campus food services can provide for her child’s delicate (and, presumably, voracious) dietary needs. Don’t worry about the answer to her question. However, do pray that this is not your child’s roommate.

10AM: You move outside for the long-awaited campus tour, led by a student (or students) specially selected by the admissions department for their lack of noticeable facial blemishes.

10:01-10:02: Group gathers. Parents size each-other up. Clothing is compared. You are relieved that your kid has fewer pimples relative to the others.

10:02-10:30: Campus tour. The student-guide walks backwards, spouting various information about the campus that may or may not be true. They point at granite/limestone/brick buildings, stating things like “This building houses our East African Monkey Scrotum Advanced Studies Department.” The guide explains that this is the only university with such a department. Everyone acts impressed at the university’s dedication to unique areas of academia.

10:30-10:45: You reach the student union. Here, the guide will talk about various student organizations. Some will sound mundane. Some will sound fun. Some will sound like total bullshit.

10:38: Walk past on-campus Chipotle-knock-off restaurant.

10:45: Some schools will provide a brief dorm tour. Make note of the room sizes, average number of roommates, and overall cleanliness. Listen to see if any dorms have particular reputations. Lastly, remember that this is where your beautiful child will first experience the joys of unprotected sex with a relative stranger after a night of binge drinking.

11AM: Tour ends. Guide remains to answer any questions. Keep in mind that the guide really doesn’t want to answer your questions. He/she just wants to get away from all the idiots (you).

11:02-11:30: Attempt to talk to your child about the visit. They will reply in noncommittal grunts, giving you no indication whether they liked the experience or not. Just imagine a pleasant conversation in your mind. Sure, it may be delusional, but you’re a parent. So, it’s OK.

Financial Aid

Remember what I said about “100% of demonstrated financial need?” Well, we’ll discuss that here.

First, let me be absolutely clear about something. A top tier university costs about $70,000 per year. My number is more than what most colleges will quote, but it includes a healthy allowance for incidentals, including travel to and from for holidays and breaks.

If you’re reading this, you probably have a high-performing kid who has great grades and a solid ACT/SAT score. They could probably receive a full/near-full scholarship to a big-name state university. There is no shame in this. Harvard is a wonderful place for some, but a shitty place for others. It may be that your child is one of the latter. That’s fine. Really, mom, it’s fine.

So, let’s move to dollars and cents, focusing on that $70K per year big-name jobbie.

Right now, you’re reading this on a computer, right? Is it your computer? If it is, that means that you are able to own a computer. You have no demonstrated financial need. Pay 100% tuition and fees. If it is not your computer, then that means you must have walked somewhere to use someone else’s computer. That means that you were able to feed yourself sufficiently enough to muster the energy to make the walk. Knowing this, you have no demonstrated financial need. Pay 100% tuition and fees.

Do you and your child live in a cardboard box in a wooded park or abandoned lot? You might have demonstrated financial need. However, you must provide a high-quality digital photo of the box.

OK, OK. I wasn’t really fair with that. Let me be slightly more appropriate.

We are going to use two families as an example.

Family A is a modest middle-class family. 2 kids, mom stays at home, dad works as a mid-range blue collar worker. They live in a modest home that fits their needs, but nothing more. Dad pulls-down about $65K per year because he worked hard and was named as a foreman in his factory. The family lives modestly, buys used cars and drives them for their whole lifespan, investing money into a decent nest-egg, with only occasional, scrupulously-planned frivolities.

Family B is very similar to Family A. 2 kids. Mom stays at home. Dad works in the same factory as the dad in Family A, also as a foreman earning $65K per year. However, this family blows their money as soon as they spend it, with an Xbox, Playstation, and consumer debt for a new car every two years, a 4-wheeler, a boat, and a swimming pool. They have no savings. Money is spent as soon as it is earned. For this family, credit cards are made to be maxed-out.

We would all agree that Family A is smart, doing all the things that financial planners say you should do. They are responsible and willing to sacrifice a bit in order to build security for the future. Good for them. The reward? They get to pay $100 tuition and fees. Congrats.

Why? They have savings and are clearly not in a current financial hardship. They have the means to sacrifice a bit more, dip into those savings, and help pay for renovations on the university’s football stadium and an expansion to the student union to house a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop. The university deeply appreciates the dedication and sacrifice.

What about Family B? They are hedonistic, with consumer debt for luxury and excess goods. However, they have no savings in which to dip, and their income to debt ratio shows that they have placed themselves in a horrible current financial situation. Bankruptcy is a real possibility for them, especially once they purchase a second 4-wheeler. They will receive significant financial help from the university because they have a demonstrated financial need.

Who do you blame for this horrible disparity. Look no further than that Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form must be completed by anyone looking for financial aid (even loans) through the school.

Let me be blunt. The FAFSA is not looking for financial need. It is looking for financial means. Don’t delude yourself to believe otherwise.

But, hey, is there really a limit to how much you’d pay to make Dakota happy? Of course not.

Save your pennies, mom. Or, better yet, get those his and hers Harleys you’ve been lusting-for all these years. Don’t worry about the fact that you can’t ride a bike or operate a clutch. You want them. You should get them. Pay full price. Empty your coffers and pile-up consumer debt. It could save you $280,000 in the long run.

There may be follow-ons to this post, as the mood strikes me. After all, this is just the tip of the college hell iceberg.


*Based on my cub scout leader experiences, Dakota seems to be a very popular name for boys. My den consists of Dakota, Logan, Cooper, Dakota, Ethan, Dakota, and Bill. God bless Bill’s parents.


8 thoughts on “So, you want your kid to go to a top college?

  1. My son goes to MIT, where he’s doing very well, and this is a good post. I have a t-shirt that says MIT Fencing on it. And a coffee mug, but the MIT wore off. Did I mention MIT?

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