Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Day at the National College Fair

We braved Seattle's first major rain and wind storm of the season today and headed downtown, where the National College Fair was in full swing at the Convention Center. Elisabeth, who graduated from Cal in May but is a school-aholic at heart, came with us to support Aleks and Kat as they made their way from booth to booth, through the throngs of ambitious college-bound teens, talking to admissions counselors and gathering school brochures. Elisabeth and Kat quickly went their own way to explore the health-sciences-oriented schools, while Alex and I explored the international universities and the American universities that have international and pre-law-oriented programs. We soon settled into a pattern where Aleks would "interview" the admissions counselor ("what sets your school apart from all the other schools here?) and I'd ask the financial aid questions ("we'll have three starting university at the same time...").

Seattle (you can see our famous landmark sign in the distance to Elisabeth's right) is a highly educated city, with over half its adult population having at least a bachelor's degree and well over 85% of graduates of the local high school heading for college, so Aleks and Kat are surrounded by keen competition. In fact, they were constantly running into school friends who were also attending the conference with their families. (Peter, who decided -- with our full support -- to take a year off after graduation from high school, is already enrolled at the local community college where he will attend for two years and then enroll at Washington State University... so his plans are set.)

By the end of the afternoon, Aleks and Kat had focused in on the schools they're interested in (University of San Francisco, UCLA and University of Washington, among others for Kat, and Richmond University (London), Franklin College (Switzerland), Sterling College (Scotland), American University or George Washington University (Washington DC) for Aleks), attended workshops on application and admissions strategies, and wore themselves out, both physically and mentally.

My biggest concern, having recently been laid off from Microsoft was, of course, finances. How on earth are we going to put all three of these kids through school concurrently? When Elisabeth was at Cal, there were months when we paid more for her tuition than we paid for mortgage! In the three and a half years that Elisabeth was at Cal, her tuition, especially the out-of-state fees, doubled -- which absolutely killed me, having grown up a stone's throw from her dorm at Clark Kerr, and having a mother who taught (German and comparative lit) at Cal for years! And in two years, we'll be looking not only at a sudden empty nest (because Peter, Aleks and Kat will all head away to school at the same time), but at triple (TRIPLE!) university tuition payments each month! That scares the begeezers (what are begeezers, anyway?) outta me!

But I have to look at this like I look at all other difficult situations -- somehow we'll find a way. The kids know that we'll do our best to pay for their college education what we paid for Elisabeth's, but that there can be no guarantees -- especially with my situation being so tenuous. And because Tom changed careers five years ago (and thank goodness he did!), the onus is largely on me to make this happen. They know that they'll need to get financial aid and scholarships to cover a large portion of their college expenses and that they'll be responsible for all spending money. They know that means that if they go to school in-state, they won't be paying off student loans for the length of time they'll be paying if they go to London, for example.

But ultimately the choice is theirs. If they work hard for it, they can go anywhere and do anything they want. Right?!

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1 comment:

blackcrag said...

Until I heard about the financial problems, I thought Scotland would be a cool choice for Aleks. But then, I might be biased as I'm of Scots-descent.

I lived in England fo three years growing up, and while I didn't go through culture shock, it is a completely different environment. Language is about all we North Americans and the Brits have in common, and depending on the accent, not much of that, either.

If you/he can somehow swing it, going to school in a different country would be an amazing education, both in and out of class.

If not, well, there is always travel to broaden the mind later on. Good luck at figuring it all out.

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