We have been preparing for this day since she was in kindergarten. It was 2010, my daughter Rachel’s senior year, and she had begun to apply to colleges. Her father and I were financially ready, if not mentally ready. She could go to any state school without worries. The problem; she was not applying to Florida schools. She wanted to go to the northeast. We found this out after she began filling out applications online. Her sights were set on Manhattan, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. I was taken back. My daughter wanted to go to those same places which I both loved and feared. Excitement for her getting to live my dream combated the reality of her leaving.
My fear made me insist that she apply to some Florida Schools and as we looked through their websites, I reiterated the positive reasons to stay closer to home: she could come home on weekends, still see her friends here. Her response was to show me the out of state school websites she was interested in. I could not hide my excitement and was in awe of what some of these schools offered. We would exclaim together and discuss going to see a Broadway show or the ballet at Lincoln Center! She knew all the city had to offer and I could not deny it. We compromised and she sent applications everywhere.
Once that first application sending excitement wore off, I again got nervous and sang the praises of Florida schools; look how affordable they were and how they also offered excellent opportunities, I would say, and she wouldn’t need to use any of her own money. Rachel of course had no problem investing all her money into making her college dream become a reality. I needed to find a new tactic, but it was difficult for me to stay steadfast on Florida, and my daughter knew it.
I had my reasons for being so wishy-washy. My daughter wanted to head down an unknown path that I had wanted to take so many years ago. When I was ready for college, it seems so long ago now, I was also all set for adventure. I had so many dreams, but fear, insecurity and family pressure were too much for me. Without even exploring any other options, I chose the local Florida College my brother was already attending. I often wondered where I would be now if I had made different choices.
We went north for Thanksgiving week and stayed with my sister, who ironically ended up in New Jersey. We hoped the flight and distance would make it more real and scarier for Rachel. We went on all the college tours. It was very strange for me. These were the tours I had never taken. I was caught between a present and past self as we took the tours. I was the mother and also that long ago enthusiastic college bound student. It was a cathartic experience. The old urge laid to rest.
Then the college letters came and her father and I felt so proud when she was accepted to them all with scholarships, which really made the out of state schools a possible reality.
We went again in the spring. We attended the accepted student day of her three top schools, all in New Jersey. What an exhilarating experience! Again, I felt a cleansing of past regrets and lost choices as they washed away.
Up until the end of the acceptance period, I varied day to day on what I wanted her to do. Her father was also not sure. Family and friends urged her to stay in Florida. My daughter’s made of much stronger stuff than me and did not waiver under pressure. She knew that underneath my indecisiveness, I so wanted this for her.
Rachel chose a school in northern New Jersey right on the border of New York City. She takes the bus into Manhattan frequently either with her friends or with the clubs she has joined. Rachel is in an honors program that also includes travel as part of the curriculum. In her freshman year she spent part of her winter break in England. She has met and had dinners with ambassadors, as part of her international studies program and has been to briefings at the United Nations. Last spring she went to Washington D.C. She is the assistant editor of the schools magazine, and works as a student ambassador for the school. Right now she is studying abroad for the spring semester in England.
And as for me? The college bound student inside me is finally content, as she happily goes along for the ride.
For those juniors in high school who will experience all this next year, I have included some things I found helpful through the process.
Tips on applying to Colleges:1. Apply to many schools. Application fees are small compared to not having enough choices after acceptance letters arrive.
2. Choose schools that reflect your child’s interest and needs (I knew Rachel would not have a car so I wanted to make sure transportation was easily accessible.)
3. Have your child fill in applications and state all enrichment and volunteering they have done. This could make the difference between acceptance and not.
4. You can visit colleges before or after you have sent applications. We did it both ways. Actually Rachel got her first acceptance letter while visiting one of her chosen colleges.
5. Make sure to complete FAFSA by due dates. Rachel got an extra $1000.00 toward tuition that way.
6. Enjoy all parts of the experience!