Getting to college - Mothering Forums
Preteens and Teens > Getting to college
doctorjen's Avatar doctorjen 01:23 AM 05-19-2005
Anybody been through college applying with their dc yet?
I realized I should know more about it, but I really don't. I only applied to 2 colleges back in the day, 1 because it was near my house, and the other because I was recruited by an admissions rep who came on a visit to my high school. My ds was about 6 mos old when I was applying, I was a single parent, and completely clueless. Niether of my parents had attended college and knew nothing about it. I ended up attending the college that recruited me. I had a great experience there (as great as you can have while single parenting, working nearly full time, and being broke all the time)
But, as a result, I don't really know any good method of helping my ds find a college that will suit him. He thinks he's interested in computer-something. He wants to stay in IL. He thinks he'd like to go to U of I, but that is mostly because he has a friend there, and has visited a couple of times. (I try to point out that all of college is not sitting around in your pjs all weekend playing video games and not showering, but he doesn't quite get it.) I think knowing his personality and learning style, he'd do better at a school where there is a chance someone will notice if he doesn't show up to class or do his homework.
Anybody been through this with kids? Or recently for themselves? How do you go about finding a suitable college?

shelbean91's Avatar shelbean91 02:21 AM 05-19-2005
I was from a small town in IL (1000 people) and I wanted to go away for college. I ended up compromising and moving into the dorms at NIU. Big mistake- I was not missed when I didn't attend class and was 'asked' to leave after 3 semesters (I flunked out). I took off a semester and when I went back, it was at a community college- smaller classes, so more accountability.

A friend told her son he had to go to community college and do well before transferring to a university or she wouldn't pay for school. She figured if he stayed at home, she could help ensure he was getting everything done.

As far as matching interests with schools, I would start by meeting with the high school guidance counselor. They don't know everything, but should know the basics of larger and smaller schools. Be careful when making a choice b/c if he decides to transfer after a year or 2, the credits may or may not transfer. Another friend of mine went to UofI for a year before she decided she wanted to go to NIU to live at home and save money- most of her credits didn't transfer, so she retook several classes and had to go to summer school a couple of times to graduate on time.

It's hard to make a life decision at this age- if I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I'd definitely go the community college route. Much more similar to high school- eases the transition and much cheaper to help figure out what you want to do- easier to take electives, etc. Of course, if I did it all over again not knowing what I know now, I would have done it exactly the same way- b/c I'm stubborn that way. I wanted to live away from home and no one was going to stop me.

Also to consider is financial aid from different schools- fill out the FAFSA asap and give the names of the potential schools- once accepted, they will be able to tell what sort of money is available.

This got a little rambly- sorry.
JenLove's Avatar JenLove 09:28 AM 05-19-2005
I would try to get him a tour at this college. I know at SIUE they do tours of the buildings and give them ideas about what type of activities there are to do. Most importantly, they are student lead. There's no other adult from campus with you, so if you have "real student questions" you can ask them then.

Good luck!
Cole's Avatar Cole 11:04 AM 05-19-2005
I recently went through the college thing myself (about 6 years ago) with parents who either didn't go to college or went to a college their mom and dad literally choose for a year (and subsequently dropped out because "college" wasnt for them).

The two biggest things I wish I would have known going in are these:

(a) college is an investment... it sucks to be poor at the time, but if you are truly committed to finishing the education, then it is worth it and that is why there are loans (and grants if you qualify). Don't sell yourself short because you can't "afford" it... 80% of americans (and pretty much 100% of 18 year olds without big time support from mom and dad) really can't afford to pay for college out of pocket... but its hard to be in the workforce without a degree, so its worth the investment. This is a hard concept at 18 when the biggest sum of money you've really dealt with is probably a few hundred dollars (heck, its hard for us in our twenties and thirties), but I think its an important thing to ponder both as a parent and as the student.

(b) It is very difficult to find a sense of community at commuter schools... this includes your community college and/or local state school. If you think that college includes making all these new friends and having new social experiences while still being held accountable in class, then you ought to consider going to a smaller state school that isn't in a big metro area or a private liberal arts college (where they might make you live in dorms to foster that sense of community). Also, beware when leaving the state to go to a different states' commuter school... most of the kids attending are from the area, already have family and friends there, etc. A way to gauge how much of a commuter school a state school is is to just ask: What percentage of your undergraduates live in the dorms? How many of the kids who live in the dorms are foriegn students? If less than 40-50% of the domestic kids live on campus, then your kid may have a hard time finding his/her niche in the college community.

Other general things that I think people need to realize:
(a) don't choose a school for an undergraduate degree "program"... unless your child is an exception, most don't really know exactly what they want to do and thus would benifit from choosing a school on overall standards, feel of the campus, support systems, etc. If they really think they want to go more into science (engineering, computers, medicine), then make sure the science program is fairly strong as those types of classes are generally more expensive to offer due to labs, etc and may be limited at a smaller school.
(b) private liberal art colleges with a good financial aid package are often more affordable than state universities.... keep in mind that your child may not want to live at home for the entire experience, so factor what it would cost to get an aparment (plus food plus utilities, etc) and compare that to dorm costs. Don't overlook a college that you love the feel of because of the word "private."
(c) if you do go the community (or junior) college route (and that is a great way to go for a lot of people), then plan on getting an AA (associates or 2 year degree). AA's transfer much more nicely as a degree than as equivalent credits to Universities and will likely be the more efficent way to go.

There are no hard and fast rules for picking a college. Visit several different types and see how you and your child feel about them... once you pick the "type(s)" of school, then start looking at 10-15 schools. Most "advisors" say to at least start the application process for 6 to 8 schools.... 1 or 2 dreams schools, 1 or 2 fall back schools, and 3 to 4 middle of the road schools.

Good luck!
katebleu's Avatar katebleu 05:20 PM 05-19-2005
i agree with a lot of what cole said especially about community and the financial aspect.

i went to a small private liberal arts school and graduated in four years with no debt. my parents paid less than if i'd gone to the state school across town. i had been 'for sale'. i had applied at my top five schools and said i would go to the one who gave me the most money wth the fewest strings attached.

i also definitely enjoyed the sense of community of a campus where most students live on-campus in dorms. college is as much experiential as educational. most of what i learned was about me and people in general. i.e. sometimes college is about not showering and playing video games. one of the best thing i did in college was pledge a sorority and learn not to be the painfully shy girl i had been in college and that i was a raging liberal and feriuos feminist.

what i'm really saying is that college is an investment, a big one, and a big committment so go with your gut. i knew that the college i went to was for me because they signed everything with a coordinating purple pen and i liked that attention to detail. i figured it meant they might pay attention to me.

so figure out what is most important to your son be it majors he's interested in, location, cost, etc. and make a leap. i would also suggest campus tours (although i had never seen my school until the day before freshmen orientation) it helps prospective students to see themselves at that school and to see if they think they might fit in. look into over night visits too if your son is going to be staying in the dorms.

good luck.
Ellien C's Avatar Ellien C 07:54 PM 05-19-2005
I can remember this for myself - I graduated HS in 1988 though - so it's been awhile. I can remember me and all of my friends literally waking up one morning and us all determining that we had NO IDEA where we should go to school. Since we weren't much into sports, none of us could even NAME 10 colleged. And the first 3 we could name were Harvard, Yale and the local CC.

1) There should be "fairs" in the HS, like a job fair where you can get info about different colleges.

2) The guidance counselors should have some tools you can use to narrow down a list of starting places. You should be able to enter some criteria like major, rough size of college and urban/suburban/rural setting. Or your state or distance from home.

er, or were you homeschooling? In which case, I guess I don't know.
mbmason's Avatar mbmason 09:32 PM 05-19-2005
First some U of I specific comments: If he really is interested in computers, there is probably no better place than U of I. It has well-respected computer science and computer engineering departments as well as the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). There are plenty of work-study compatible jobs in the area for programmer types.

Even if he doesn't know for sure he wants to get into computers, I'd recommend applying directly to the College of Engineering at first; it's easier to get in at the beginning than it is to transfer in from Liberal Arts later. It is easy to switch between engineering majors, or to transfer out of engineering to another College.

As far as the debate between large and small -- I went to U of I (~45,000 students) as an undergrad and loved it. Because of its size, there was such a diversity of experiences and people, and I could try a lot of new things before finding a niche. Even in large classes, I found professors, TAs and other students extremely helpful as long as I made the effort to ask. Most learning comes from individual reading and questioning anyway, not from sitting in a lecture. For graduate school I went to a very small school (~800 students) but I had to make the same effort to get help.

I think it might actually be better to pick based on quality of life rather than academic credentials or professor-student ratio or whatnot. In the end I picked U of I because it was the cheapest school I applied to, it was "far enough" away from home, and my boyfriend at the time was going there. Those things sound silly but they were important for my happiness in those years. I know another girl who had it all planned out for years that she would go to the best school in her chosen field. She ended up hating it because there was nothing to do and the students formed cliques like they were still in high school. (She transferred schools and is much happier!)

Have your son do some internet research. Take some driving trips and visit a couple places. Sit in on some classes, walk around the campus and the town. Talk to some students. You may want to check out places like Marquette (private, but gives excellent financial aid packages), Purdue, ISU-Bloomington, Iowa, IIT or SIUC. Good luck!
doctorjen's Avatar doctorjen 10:29 PM 05-19-2005
Thanks for all the great ideas.
Some more specific info about our situation follows. Ds is a fair student, generally an "underacheiver." He doesn't like to have to do anything he doesn't feel is worthwhile (like biology.) He will graduate with roughly a high B average. His ACT composite is 26 - so not bad, but maybe not good enough for U of I College of Engineering. He is a terrible priority setter. I really wonder at times how he'll do in college without me to nag him - but there is always e-mail (joking, really.) He is interested in computers, but he honestly doesn't really understand much about what is available in the field. My dh programs for a living, but in a fairly specific niche (scientific systems programming for a national lab) Ds doesn't really think dh knows much (or me at this point, actually, but he isn't completely impossible to talk to.) Since I know he doesn't really understand much about the field he thinks he's interested in, I think there is a high probability he may decide on something else once he's there, so I want him to go somewhere that isn't too difficult to switch if necessary. (I think he has this vague idea that computer science means something about video game playing
We are in a fortunate position in that we can mostly afford to send him to college. We will not be eligible for any need-based aid. Certainly finances are not unlimited, though, so of course we want to choose carefully.
I guess my biggest concern is helping him find someplace where he has options. Also, I worry that if he went to a bigger school, he would fall through the cracks, since he is not very self-motivated and if he is struggling, may just go ahead and struggle. On the other hand, at some point you gotta take a leap and sink or swim, so at some point, he's going to have to want to do well all on his own.
shelbean91's Avatar shelbean91 10:50 PM 05-19-2005
I had good grades in high school, but that was b/c I was smart enough to get by without studying. I was voted 'laziest' in high school and when I actually had to go to class and read the book to pass, I just didn't. I would spend more time talking my way out of a situation instead of just doing whatever it was I was trying to talk my way out of.
doctorjen's Avatar doctorjen 10:59 PM 05-19-2005
Yep, that's my kid! Very bright, but if there's a way not to do it, he'll find it. Also, he does terribly with distant deadlines - like say, write a paper over the next 4 weeks. But, he is very good-natured, bright, and pleasant to be around so folks often cut him slack - but I know this won't last forever!
shelbean91's Avatar shelbean91 11:06 PM 05-19-2005
That was me, and honestly, I would do the community college route if I could do it over. Yes, you still need to seek out help, but findign the right help out of 3000 students is much easier than 45000 students. I failed a class I didn't even know I was enrolled in!! (it was human anatomy- no idea why i would have even enrolled in it- just found out a couple of years ago when I was re-enrolling in college to become a teacher!!)
shelbean91's Avatar shelbean91 11:12 PM 05-19-2005
and I've been meaning to ask you- if I ever move back to IL, will you be my dr?? Pretty please??
doctorjen's Avatar doctorjen 01:34 AM 05-20-2005
I'd think about it. :LOL
Seriously, I kind of live in the middle of nowhere - but if somehow you decided to live in the middle of nowhere, too - Sure!
doctorjen's Avatar doctorjen 01:35 AM 05-20-2005
In the meantime, you could visit my mom in Goodyear, AZ for me!
shelbean91's Avatar shelbean91 02:05 AM 05-20-2005
Sounds good. I moved from the middle of nowhere in IL, just a bit further north- corn country- smell of cows and pigs when the weather was JUST right :LOL. We were in a small town (1000 people) near DeKalb, if you know where that is. My sister is currently going to Western Il Univ and my dh had a friend in the springfield area- small town, but I don't remember the name off hand.
doctorjen's Avatar doctorjen 10:59 AM 05-20-2005
I live about an hour south of Dekalb, actually. In fact, Dekalb is in our district for swim team and my 2 middle kids swim there often during winter season. My oldest ds was also born there. So we are apparently from the same part of nowhere!
shelbean91's Avatar shelbean91 01:54 PM 05-20-2005
We are from the same part of nowhere!! In high school, we played schools from all around- so it's possible we were in your neck of the woods. There are definitely good and bad about the small town life!!
mbmason's Avatar mbmason 07:17 PM 05-20-2005
The people I know who went to CC with no plans, hoping to "find themselves," did not do very well and several ended up dropping out. Those that did well either knew they wanted an associates degree in a particular field or knew that their CC time was a stepping stone to a four year degree. They knew more or less what they wanted to study and researched what courses would transfer to the local universities.

Perhaps a semester or a year of part-time CC in combination with some kind of internship (paid or unpaid) would be helpful for your son? He could take the sort of classes that transfer easily to any four year degree (like history, psychology, literature 101 -- but do check!) and use the internship to investigate the career options in computer science.
velochic's Avatar velochic 11:42 AM 05-22-2005
My dh is a professor of computer science for Indiana University, IU (which has its main campus in Bloomington, btw... ISU is in Terre Haute).

You said your son is interested in computers. I used to be a programmer/analyst for a pharma company, but I never got the degree. One thing about a major in computer science... you cannot be lazy. Period. You have to be great at prioritizing, work on projects throughout a semester and really dedicate yourself to allowing a certain amount of time each week to working on it. Fridays and Saturdays in the lab... late nights studying. It is NOT an easy major and allows little or no time to be a " normal college student".

My dh's (whose Ph.D is from Champaign-Urbana) field of research is based on computer graphics (a major component of what goes into video gaming) and he always gives a course project to be completed by the end of the semester. His courses always sound fun because the kids think, "Hey I can write video games now", but he usually only gives one or two A's per semester. It's a really tough course. And computer science is a REALLY tough field. I know... although I met my dh in the classroom (yes, I was his student)... I didn't survive. Good thing I married the prof and started a family. Seriously, though... if your ds is interested in doing something with computers, there are many, many other avenues to go down other than the pure science of computers. Computer technology, management of information science, certificates of all sorts... please make sure your ds explores all options because there is a lot more about the world of computers than just the science.

Good luck!!

BTW - Like I said, I was a programmer for 10 years before I met dh, got married, had a baby and quit my job. I had a liberal arts degree, but taught myself to code... so don't rule out the technical colleges that will just teach coding. You don't necessarily have to understand everything about computers to get a good job in information science.
doctorjen's Avatar doctorjen 01:32 AM 05-23-2005
See, I don't think my ds is actually well-suited to the life of a computer programmer, but that's what he thinks he wants to do. I'm hoping he'll go to college somewhere that if he realizes it's not for him, there are lots of other options.
My dh programs for a living, for the most part. His degree is in physics/math (double major) and he writes control systems for scientific systems at a national laboratory. He loves his job, but a lot of it is pretty nit-picky stuff, where he sits with the computer and his radio and plugs away.
My ds is very, very social. He has great people skills and is one of those types everyone loves. He loves to be around people. He's very musically talented, although he doesn't put a lot of effort into it, too. I'm hoping he'll find a career field that utilizes his natural strengths better.
Unfortunately, it turns out when your kids get bigger, they don't let you make all their decisions for them! Although I can kind of see how things might turn out, he has to go ahead and go through things himself, and make his own decisions. So far in life, most of his mishaps have not had permanent consequences, but of course he's reaching that point in life where they will. It's worse than watching your toddler from across the room as they are about to trip over something, and you can't get there in time to stop it. Sometimes I know he's heading for trouble, but it's not my life and I have to let him do it. Sigh. This parenting thing is not getting any easier over the years.
green betty's Avatar green betty 10:23 AM 05-27-2005
ITA Cole. College is an investment! Not just in future success, but in the ability to think critically/analyze society/appreciate art/enjoy life! I am highly biased towards the small liberal arts college. If I were you I'd go for a few tours of worthwhile schools in your area--Knox, Beloit just over the border in Wisconsin, Grinnell in Iowa to shoot high. All those schools (although probably especially Grinnell) have good financial aid available. You can find out how to set up a visit through their websites. I know schools in your area well so pm me if you want any further details or recommendations.