Coping

Since my last post, a lot of things have happened. Some for the good, others not.

Just seven short days after my last post, MM lost a classmate. It was a freak accident and completely unexpected. It shook our small school family to the core. While MM was not friends with the young man, she knew him and had shared classes with him over the past four years. On top of that, just three months ago, MM’s cousin was killed. Our family is healing and trying to come to grips with our loss. Needless to say, my nephew, was on my mind every time I thought about what the boy’s poor parents and brother must be going through, dealing with this unexpected loss. It was a rough couple of weeks for us, and I think MM summed up her thoughts very nicely in her Instagram post:

WalkerHowever hard it is, we must move on and find a way to cope with both of these losses. That is what we are doing.

In the meantime, we are still trying to navigate through MM’s junior year, college searches, scholarships, work, and life. I had planned to discuss all of these things in this post, but I don’t think I will. It can wait. Until then:

 

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Vanderbilt Road Show

Last week, just as school started up, Vanderbilt University’s Road Show came through town. MM’s on their mailing list but hasn’t really expressed any interest (or disinterest) in the school. But, it is within driving distance so it’s on my list. She didn’t complain about going to the presentation, so that was a good start.

The presentation, given by two people from the admissions office, went over the school’s policy for admissions, financial aid, and an overview of the various colleges, campus life, and the city. Immediately, I was impressed by their admissions policy. There are three components:

First: Since talent and promise recognize no social, cultural, economic, or geographic boundaries, our admissions process is need-blind for U.S. Citizens and eligible non-citizens.

– Vanderbilt University Financial Aid Website

What does this mean? It means that the applicant’s financial status does not factor into the admissions process. Students are accepted, or denied, on talent and merit. Why does this matter? Not all schools are need-blind, as discussed in this October 2013 Forbes article. I don’t know exactly where my income would fall on the spectrum for need-aware schools, but I’d feel a lot better knowing it wasn’t a consideration. Why not cross that bridge when we come to it instead of having it dropped in front of the bridge as a roadblock?

The second and third components really go together:

Second: Vanderbilt will meet 100% of a family’s demonstrated financial need.
Third: Financial aid awards do not include loans. Instead of offering need-based loans to undergraduate students, Vanderbilt offers additional grant assistance.

– Vanderbilt University Financial Aid Website

 

I don’t know if any other schools make the second promise, but it’s the addition of the third component that makes this significant. Now, before you get too excited, they’re not saying they’re handing out $63,000 to every student. What it basically means is after you’ve completed your FAFSA and your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) has been determined, as well as any other financial awards you received, then Vanderbilt puts together a financial aid package that covers the rest. Of course, you still have to be accepted, but hey, not too shabby. Not all schools are need-blind. Some are very much need-aware. And just because a school is need-blind, it doesn’t mean it will meet full demonstrated need. Wikipedia has a page of schools and their need-blind statuses. It’s a good place to start, but the school’s Office of Financial Aid is, of course, the best source.

As I mentioned, they also went over the campus itself, Freshman life, Nashville, school clubs and organizations, etc. But, honestly, at an off-campus information session, it’s the admissions and financial aid that I’m more focused on. However, after this session, I think MM is open to a visit and considering Vanderbilt when she has to come up with her short list.

Next up is her school’s college fair in September. We also have school visits planned to Mississippi State University and University of Southern Mississippi in September and October. 

This is going to be a buuuuussssyyyy year!

~Mom

Time to Regroup

Thinking about writing this post there were several quotes that came to mind. One, that has always stuck with me for some reason, is from Dances with Wolves. I believe it’s when Kevin Costner’s character is first going to his new post. He and his driver, Robert Pastorelli, come across a skeleton and Pastorelli says, “I’ll bet someone back east is going, ‘Now why don’t he write?'” Kind of morbid, I know, but the point is, someone out there might have been wondering why I haven’t written. Well….

I honestly had very legitimate reasons for putting the blog down last fall. Work, school, and life got to be a bit overwhelming for the both of us and there just weren’t enough hours in the day nor days in the week. My last post was about just how busy we were at the time. In addition to work and MM’s activities, I had to manage ticket sales for the school musical and, oh yeah: MM turned 16! What started out as just another birthday and no party to mark the occasion turned into a full blown affair. Next thing I know, it’s Christmas and we’re off to London for the holiday, only to be stranded overseas for an extra week.  This also canceled our trip to California to visit UCLA. 😦 Then we came back and…well…

I would say we fell off the wagon, but it’s more like the horses went crazy and we were violently thrown off the wagon. I’ve learned a lot of times, things just don’t go how we planned.

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men,

Gang aft agley

“To a Mouse” by Robert Burns

So, here we are. MM’s junior year starts Monday and today I had a mini panic attack as I realized not only do we have to get back on track with the scholarships, but I also only have two short years to teach MM as much as I can to prepare her to go off and be on her own in the world. No, I’m not abandoning her, but who knows where she will land. She may be on the other side of the country and I can’t just pop over to show her how to sauté vegetables or balance her checking account. Even if I could, is that what she needs? No, she needs the basic tools to be able to do these things on her own. Or, if not, how to figure it out when she can’t immediately turn to me for the answers.

Now, not that this year will be any easier. My fall is just as busy at work this year and my other obligations are still there. MM is not in band anymore, but that’s been replaced by yearbook. In addition, both of us have new things that are only adding to our schedule. If anything, it will be even harder this year. You know, because, why do things when they’re easy? But, this time we can’t mess around and put things off because

just-got-real

~Mom

Distractions

Over on our Twitter account, we follow a lot of different accounts that post lots of great information about colleges, financial aid, scholarships, the applications process, and so on. Typically, on Saturday and/or Sunday mornings, I have time to scroll through the feed and see what things I might not have caught during the week. This can be a good way to find lots of information. It can also be bad. Very bad. As in I think I’m moving (financially) in the wrong direction.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a tweet from VolunTEEN Nation about programs to study abroad for high school students. Remember in my last post where I discussed encouraging MM’s love of travel? Yup. It came back to bite me in the bee-hind. I sent MM the link to NSLI for Youth. I honestly did not read the site as closely as I should have, although I did go through it a lot. I guess it’s more accurate to say I didn’t fully understand what I was reading. At any rate, I sent it to MM and she was off and running. I could not have imagined what I started. Actually, I think I perhaps should have realized what my adventurous spawn daughter would do!

Armed with a laptop and a wandering spirit, MM has hatched a plan. She eventually discovered AFS and their programs. They have study abroad programs around the world, ranging from a summer language immersion course, to a full academic year abroad. Nightly, she’d come into my room and lay out her plans. Of course, since this is MM, she doesn’t do anything small or halfway. No sir. She is going in whole hog. She wants to do a full academic year abroad.

Now while this is exciting, I have had a chance to digest it and I’m reaching full on panic mode. Not at the thought of sending my dear, sweet child away for a year. No. We’ll be lucky if foreign governments don’t beg me to take this strange child back. What I’m freaking out about is 1) cost, 2) academic credit here at home, 3) cost, and 4) did I mention cost????  For example, a semester in France costs $12,750! Full year tuition costs are not posted yet, but should be soon. I’m not sure I want to know. MM, who admittedly has done a lot of reading up on this, says she saw that the full year program is actually not a lot more than the semester. We shall see. But, now you can see why I feel like I’m moving in the wrong direction. We’re supposed to be finding money, not spending it!

Buuuuuttttt…….

Being the person I am and the mom I have been, I am not ruling it out. And after a bit of worry about having lost focus on the scholarship search, I saw the silver lining. Like I said, MM has taken charge on this. She has been diligently researching the programs and narrowed it down to AFS based on structure, offerings, etc. I followed up and agree that AFS does seem to be the best fit. She set up an appointment with her school counselor to discuss what she would need to do to make certain this does not negatively impact her graduation date. MM says she reviewed curriculum for the programs she’s considering and said she’d only have to take US History next summer to make up for a missed class. She joined the company’s Facebook page to ask questions of alumni. She is also following up with me to make sure I’m attending the webinars hosted by AFS to find out more about the company and get my questions answered. So, while we have taken a break from applying for scholarships (I am still looking though!), I feel MM has been using her time wisely because she is learning to manage a process on her own and practicing her problem solving skills.

So, the next step is to see if this is even financially possible, speak personally with the school counselor, and go from there.

But, now that we have gotten to this point, I think MM owes me a scholarship application. Mom needs to be kept happy, right?

 

~Mom

Dear MM

Almost 16 years ago, as soon as I got over the shock and excitement of knowing I was going to be a mom, I faced the fear that almost 16 years later I’d be where I’m at today. I’d be sitting here trying to encourage you to dream bigger and bigger, but also to be sensible and make good decisions, keeping your feet planted firmly on the ground, no matter how high through the clouds you soared.

For the past 15 years, I have tried to cultivate in you a spirit of adventure. I wanted you to get out there and explore. The theory that guided me was that you’d never know if you never tried. So when you were not even four years old, we hopped on a plane and crossed the Atlantic for the first of many trips overseas for you. In Kindergarten, I signed you up for dance and cheer at the community center in New Jersey. That summer, I put you on a plane and sent you to another country to spend a summer with family you barely knew. When you were in first grade, I signed you up for ballet and swimming lessons at the YMCA in Connecticut. That same year, I made the commitment to lead you, and several other girls, through the world of Girl Scouting. I introduced you to camping and service to your community. We read books together. Oh so many books. You read me the stories of all of the American Girl Dolls, which lead to your grandfather calling you Josefina.

When you were in second grade, you decided you wanted to play the guitar. Off we went to the local music store and found you a teacher. Eight years down the road, you are now playing guitar in your school’s marching band. You grew into your own skin, discovering your passions. You grew up and left your dolls behind.  You spent your summers exploring ancient Greek ruins and traveling around Italy, touring the monuments of D.C. with your Girl Scout troop, enjoying a girls’ trip to Savannah, GA with our friends, you spent a whole summer camping with me and hundreds of other girls. You’ve done a lot. And every year, I encouraged you to think bigger.

So here we are. In less than three years, you will be setting off on a journey I myself took just 20 years ago.

Like you, I had big dreams. I knew what I wanted to be and “knew” how I was going to do it. So I packed my bags and headed off to the other side of the country. I had found my ideal college. Or so I thought. But there was one huge difference. I did not have nearly as many tools at my disposal as you do today. What do I mean? I’m not the first in our family to go to college, but neither do we have a tradition of higher education in our family. We do not have a family school that everybody dating back to your greattothefifthdegree-grandfather attended. So even though your grandparents were clear that they intended for me to go to college, we didn’t have a plan. I am sure there were resources out there that could have helped me through the process, but I didn’t have anyone to point me in the right direction. My high school counselors weren’t nearly as proactive as yours. Armed with an impressive transcript and SAT scores, I applied to a few schools, but in my mind that was just a formality. I only had one school that I wanted to go to. That was also the only school I chose to visit. (I was flown up to visit another school, but that was not my choice, so I don’t count that).

I got accepted to my school of choice but I had no plan. I didn’t apply for a single scholarship and I only received one or two small scholarships that didn’t require applications. That was a huge mistake because tuition was over $20,000 a year. This was 20 years ago. It’s now over $40,000 a year. Well what did I do? I took out student loans. Don’t get me wrong, student loans aren’t evil. But you don’t want to take out $20,000+ a year! Why not? Because you have to pay them back! I didn’t have anyone there to explain all of this to me. Still, I was receiving a top notch education and I’d have a great career when I graduated, so it was worth it….right??? Well… It would have been a top notch education, if I actually had taken advantage of it. Let’s just say this, I characterize my time at that school as a year and a half long, $30,000 party.  And what a party! waste of money. I didn’t understand what I was doing. I wasn’t mature enough to be doing this on my own. I needed someone to help me navigate this new world.

As you know, I moved back home, to go to school in state but the damage was done. I had missed out on the opportunity to go to school for free in my own backyard. The school I ended up graduating from turned out to be one of the best schools in the country for my major. Had I had more guidance, I would have known this when I was deciding where to go to school. I would have understood the value of what I was passing up. Georgia had just established the HOPE Scholarship. Graduating with my grades, if I had stayed in state to go to college, I would have gone to school for free. Instead, I was deeply in debt and I had basically wasted over two years because, to be honest, my heart was no longer in it by the time I moved back home. I dropped out of college.

In the end, I finally did go back to school but it was so much harder. You were already born and I was working full time. It took me another four years of going to school part time while working full time to finish my degree. Even though it was much cheaper than where I started, I was still taking out loans. I had wasted my opportunities. There was no longer a chance of going to school for free. And because I had a family, a home, and a car note, I had to continue working instead of focusing solely on school.

So here we are, twenty years after my journey started. My college debt has grown. Again, due to lack of guidance, I didn’t know how to handle all of those loans I had taken out so I just avoided them. I put off paying for them instead of trying to slowly pay them off. I deferred and deferred for as long as I could. But I have stopped avoiding and am now paying off. I will be for a long time. This is not what I want for you.

This is why we are doing what we are doing. This is why I am searching night and day for any “free money” I can find for you. This is why you are writing essay after essay. This is why I am writing this never ending post! 🙂 So when I insist that you consider schools in state that you are absolutely 10000% against considering, it’s not because I’m trying kill your dreams. It is because I am trying to make your dreams come true instead of turning them into a nightmare. I will do everything I can to get you to where you want to go. But, in the end, my ultimate goal is that you attend the best school possible combined with the least amount of debt. I want you to finish school and have no regrets and not have any debt. I even want you to enjoy some parties, just not too many! So if you will give me the benefit of the doubt and just consider what I have to say, I am certain you will end up somewhere you love and you will get the best education available and do it all for free. I will give up my first born child if I’m not right. 😉

~ Mom

Are you my fit? – Financials (Part 2)

The second of a two-part post with great tips on things to consider when evaluating colleges and making a final decision.