Ages 10-12 (Tween)Ages 13-17 (Teen)Education

Why am I Worried About College When My Kid is in Middle School?

If you spend a lot of time on Facebook, or have friends or relatives who have kids approaching college age, you may have seen the NYT column by Frank Bruni that published on Friday and started circulating, at least on my social network almost immediately: How to Survive the College Admissions Madness. It’s a great piece. And it makes me want to curl up in my metaphorical shell like a turtle and never come out.

Maybe I’m just old(ish), or maybe it’s a function of growing up in a mid-size middle American town where no one actually expected to go to the Ivy League and maybe one or two students in a graduating class did every other year or so. I’m not sure what the breakdown was of my class of approximately 400 kids to graduate in 1992, but I do know that of those of use who went to college, most of us went to state schools or one of the smaller private liberal arts schools scattered about the midwest. I remember people matter-of-factly discussing where we were going to school, but I don’t remember a lot of stress about it. I honestly don’t remember anyone upset about shooting for the moon and missing. Then again, maybe they just didn’t share with the class.

Personally, I talked about wanting to apply to all sorts of schools – Oberlin, University of Chicago, NYU. The deal with my parents was that each was supposed to contribute to my college education, but the deal presented by my mother was that she and my stepfather would pay for one-half of the tuition to the best state school in our state. Anything not covered by my father and stepmother over that was on me.

I took the state school route, graduated with honors, and much like Peter Hart in Bruni’s piece, saved the Ivies for grad school, where, also somewhat like Hart’s first job, I ran into a young woman who was a year ahead of me in high school, went to Harvard undergrad, and was a year ahead of me at Harvard Law School. I would note that there were a lot of HLS students who went to state schools, or those small private liberal arts colleges, for undergrad. Certainly more of us combined than the Ivy Leaguers.

Generally speaking, I like this strategy, especially given how much can change for a kid over the years of college. Certainly, some kids go to school knowing they want to be engineers, or business executives, or teachers or journalists. I was not one of those kids. I deliberately sought out interdisciplinary majors and course trajectories, specifically because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I was pretty certain that whatever it was, I was going to need a graduate degree to do it. I was there not to have a job right out of school, but to get a broad education that would hopefully help me hone in on what I actually wanted to do. Of course, what ultimately happened was I planned to graduate in January 1996, which then led me to realize in a moment of panic in February 1995 that I had to actually be someplace doing something that wasn’t undergrad in less than a year. Ergo law school.*

Fast forward to 2015 and we’re getting notes addressed to all 6th grade families from the Superintendent of Schools for our county talking about how we need to start thinking about academic planning with an eye toward college. Then again, this is also the school system in which he will be taking at least one, possibly two, classes for high school credit next year as a 7th grader. There are good reasons for this, particularly for kids who don’t come from families where college is something that we sort of take for granted; and it kind of scares me that something my kid does as a 12 year old might end up as part of the consideration for where he goes to school at 18.

I wonder too, if the attend-a-great-state-school-and-worry-about-it-from-there advice will even work for my kids, given that parents around us regularly question whether there are spoken or unspoken quotas for admissions from our area and where out-of-state students are perceived as having an advantage based on their higher tuition.It’s a whole new world out there.

We just went through the middle school selection process (we had 4 options on the table in our county – the neighborhood school, a lottery alternative school and two countywide magnet schools), will start worrying about high school sooner than I want (again, 4 options involving testing and substantive applications in addition to one lottery this time), then college. And it all seems so (blessedly) far away, but will be here far too soon.

So, yeah, we’re kind of thinking about this already. I just hope I can keep the perspective with my own kid that I had with myself – it doesn’t so much matter where you get the degree or even what it’s in, or that you even go to college right away, if ever, so much as that you take these years as a time to experiment and grow and discover what you really want to get out of life.

Meanwhile, I will try not to lose sleep.


*And yes, HELLO CLASS PRIVILEGE at being able to do this across the board, from my experience to those Bruni recounts, and being able to make choices about where and when to go to school to begin with.


Featured image courtesy of flickr user anna gutermuth.

Emily Sexton

Writer of incomplete novels, entertainment lawyer, mom of two with a wide age spread, blogger here and elsewhere, wannabe vocalist and v/o actress, atheist, weirdo. That last bit went without saying. Find Em on twitter @emandink and maybe she'll use it more.

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