Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The March to Parchment

I just got back from "Senior parents night" at my kids' High School, and no that does not mean Senior as in old, but Senior as in after Junior. It was an informational meeting to give parents ideas on timelines, financial aid, application deadlines, college requirements, etc. It was very informative, but brought to mind my own college prep experience of almost 35 years ago and how different mine was from my kids.

I went to a private, Catholic, all male, military high school. I went there in large part because my brother went there. Mom was always good about wanting a private education for us, in part for the academics, and part for the religious aspect of it. Four out of the six of us kids ended up graduating from Catholic schools so obviously it was a priority. Most of us graduated from college and none of us has entirely abandoned our Christian faith, so I guess you could count that as a double win.

But as we sat there talking about ACT scores and weighted grading and super-scores and all the rest, all I can recall is that my decision and my process was much more simplistic. As I said we had 6 kids in the family and that meant that Mom's funding for college would be minimal at best. It also meant that going to school out of state (or even out of the Twin Cities) was not really an option. I recall having two choices; the U of MN or the College of St. Thomas. Since St. Thomas was easily double what the U was, I really only had one choice. Again, I went where my brother went because it was just easier.

Back then, everything was done by mail. I don't recall even bothering to apply for St. Thomas, as the U was my first choice anyway. I initially applied to the Institute of Technology which was one of three colleges within the University system. There was:


  • Institute of Technology
  • College of Liberal Arts
  • General College
Because I was dreaming of a degree in computer science, IT was my natural choice. Shortly after I applied I got the Dear Jim letter saying I hadn't qualified. I quickly applied to CLA and was accepted. It turned out to be for the better as I struggled with my academics early on. I had a little trouble with applying myself my freshman year and spent the next few years working hard to get my GPA back up. 

Financial aid was as much a hassle back then too. I guess some things never change. Because my mom hadn't remarried yet, I actually qualified for a full grant my first year. I was awarded a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (now defunct) which covered tuition for the year. Mom remarried during the year and the new combined income of her and my stepdad ripped the rug out from that sweet deal. 

On the upside, I got a decent paying job (for the time) at Montgomery Wards and through working 3-4 nights a week and, with a little help from mom, I was able to pay my tuition without one cent in student loans. There's not too many people from my day who can say that. 

Of course, tuition was actually almost affordable back then. Now its ridiculous and getting more ridiculous every year. UW Madison is listed at about $24,000/year for tuition and room and board. You'd have to be CEO of Montgomery Ward to pay off that debt. 

Be careful while I sound my age here.

I also lived at home and commuted to school using my motorcycle, the 52F freeway flyer bus, or I got a ride from my stepfather who worked on campus. It was simplistic and cheap and again, I am grateful to have come out debt free. Mom was always good about living at home. As long as you were going to school, you could live rent-free. As much as I do regret not living away from home for at least a year, I did take advantage of the free rent deal for the full 5 years I was in school. I knew a sweet deal when I saw one. 

In short, I can't believe we are actually this close to seeing our daughter out into the world of higher academia. It seems surreal. I will never forget seeing her walk confidently into school on her first day of kindergarten while Donna and I teared up. I was surprised that she didn't cry herself, but realize it was part of her breaking free from us. She's been doing it ever since, and College will only be the final culmination of all of it. It will also signify that we did good, very good. Of that, I'm sure.

Blogging off...

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