- Myth 5: The schools that are the most difficult to get into are the best. Yes, there are schools that only accept two percent of those who apply. But most schools accept over half. Some schools are delighted to finally be turning anyone away. And guess what? Those statistics have nothing at all to do with whether your kid will get a good education or be a success. Instead of looking at acceptance statistics alone, consider things like availability of faculty, whether faculty actually teach undergraduate courses, size of classes, and what kinds of support services are available. When you visit, look around and assess whether you feel like your student “fits” with the kids you see on campus. Read the bulletin boards. Are the posted activities things your student will likely take advantage of? Focus on finding the best school for your child, not the “best” by reputation.
- Myth 6: If I haven’t already heard of a school, my kid shouldn’t consider it. The list of schools you’ve heard of is a function of what the guidance office promotes, what your friends are talking about, where you live, and what your student has heard about from other students. If you combine the information from all of those resources, you’ll probably come up with maybe 30 schools. There are more than 3,300 accredited colleges in the United States. Many of them have what your student is looking for. Many of them offer at least as many, and perhaps more, than the schools you and your child think you have your heart set on. Do a college search on a site like Petersons and you’ll probably come up with a couple of dozen schools that offer what your student wants from a college. My youngest surprised us by finding a school through an Internet search that no one in her high school guidance office knew about. We went to visit. She was right. The school has everything she wants and needs to pursue her interests.
- Myth 7: Your student should go to the college of his or her choice. This myth makes trouble for lots of families. College is not just your child’s choice. If the family is at all subsidizing the cost, the choice also has to factor in what the family can afford and what values the family wants to support. Wise parents sit down with their kids as early as possible to lay out both what the student wants and what the family can do. What are you, the parents, willing to pay for? How much is in that college fund? How much is reasonable for you, the parents, to take out in loans and what is reasonable for the student, given all you know about him or her and the future earning potential of the chosen field? Do you, as parents, have any values-based requirements for the college choice? What does the student want from a college education? What are the top three most important factors as far as your student is concerned: Major? Size? Location? The chance to play Ultimate Frisbee? The final choice needs to be the result of respectful collaboration.
- Myth 8: Students are entitled to a college education. Wrong again. College is a gift, not an entitlement. When the child was born, you didn’t sign a contract guaranteeing extending dependence for four or more years after high school. By law, parents are obligated to care for children until age 18. After that, it’s up to you. Young adult children who understand that they are receiving a valuable gift are more likely to take their education seriously.
- Myth 9: You get what you pay for. Only the expensive private schools are really good. Yes, many private institutions truly are wonderful. Some are even $48,000 per year wonderful. But they aren’t the only wonderful schools. Some of the best schools in the country are very reasonably priced. Some states have excellent state schools where the tuition is within reach for most in-state students. Faith-based schools often are bargains. Put a price range of under $10,000 per year in the criteria for your Internet college search. You’ll be surprised what comes up. Students don’t have to mortgage their futures and parents don’t have to mortgage their houses for students to get a fine education.
- Myth 10: Parents need to be involved every step of the way. Think about it. If your child can’t research schools, manage her or his time to stay abreast of current classes and do applications, get the paperwork in on time, and ask people for recommendations, how on earth is he or she going to do the research for papers, get papers in on time, manage to keep priorities straight, and approach professors at college without the benefit of your advice and nagging? Yes, provide some guidance. Yes, be available to talk about your student’s hopes and dreams. But if the college application process takes up a great deal of your time, if you find yourself organizing, managing, and reminding your student, and if you find yourself more invested than your student, maybe your student isn’t ready to go.
It’s time for beliefs to shift. Please don’t get me wrong. Higher education is one of the most important gifts we can give our children. But the whole culture of the college application process has gotten way out of control for too many families. It’s way past time for beliefs and attitudes to shift away from old myths to new realities. Any child who wants a college education can have one (even kids who didn’t finish high school) as long as he or she isn’t invested in going to one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in the country. The process of finding and applying to schools goes best when parents hold that perspective and maintain a sense of humor and when students widen their search beyond the most well-known schools. Then this stage of parenting becomes yet another interesting and exciting part of the journey toward a child’s independence, not an emotionally draining ordeal.