In my idyllic scenario, this is how Earbaby chooses her college: We visit the last three of the four colleges where she's been accepted. She either likes one or two more, or maybe even all three, with all their relative merits. She, along with her dad and I, thoughtfully weigh the pros and cons of each school, taking into account the way they woo her with scholarship and/or grant offers, the opportunities in her particular fields of study (psychology with a strong dance minor) and how they will work to meld those two interests. Knowing that wherever she will choose, it will be far, far away, we then come to a loving consensus that will make us all satisfied, with a little melancholy.
It didn't work out that way.
We (her dad and I) pulled a bait and switch. It wasn't intentional, and I regret the way the decision-making process played out. We're all in accord now, but not with the beatific smiles all around that I pictured in my college decision fantasy.
So here it is: EB didn't know if she would be celebrating being a Bear, Panther, Tiger or Wildcat. Four acceptances meant she would have to make a tough choice, especially if she loved all four, and could see herself on all four campuses. After a day at Morgan State, in which there was a rah-rah open house, replete with tours, marching band, all kinds of bells and whistles, EB decided that the student body of 8,000 in this historically black college/university wasn't the right fit for her. It was nice, but she wasn't feeling it. Cross the Ursine off the list of mascots. Her decision was now down to three felines.
EB had already visited my alma mater in October, applied when we returned, was readily accepted, and given an incredibly generous heritage scholarship. So the money was a major factor. Her dad and I figured it would come down to one of the predominantly white institutions she got into. EB is coming from an incredibly diverse high school after being one of less than a handful of children of color in private elementary school. Good academic education aside, she wasn't happy about going back to feeling like an "other."
Next on our list was another HBCU, even smaller than Morgan State. But EB has a friend at Clark Atlanta, who gave us a tour. EB (and her parents) liked it more than we thought we would, EB liked the vibe of the southern campus, found a positive in the fact that it was in Atlanta, because she despaired of not being near a big city. But there is precious little scholarship or grant money for people in our income bracket (although we're hardly in rich people category, we do only have one child and two incomes). So we're outside of consideration for money at either HBCU. Because we're from out of state, we would be paying full price, so that others wouldn't have to. Although Clark Atlanta had much charm, its facilities were limited, so she wouldn't get what she was paying for. So we had to take the Panthers off the list.
Her dad and I always figured it would come down to one of the large PWIs. Louisiana State had been on EB's list since a college fair a year ago, and then a friend went for a semester. She ended up returning to the Bay State after a semester because of the price tag, but urged Earbaby to go there because it was so great, so much fun, and the people were so nice. So would it be SEC or Big 12?
Well, we visited for their big kickoff weekend. EB was given a badge that stated she was LSU bound, showing she was already accepted, a personalized schedule, which was essentially one visit for a talk in a classroom with a psychology teacher who had only been there two years, and a whole lot of rah-rah places you could go on your extensive free time. The kickoff actually seemed more geared toward the large number of juniors who were looking for a school to apply to than to the students who had already gotten in. There was talk about financial aid and scholarships that didn't apply to her. A couple of promises of one-on-one sessions with financial aid and someone in the dance/theater department didn't come through (EB was given a phone number to call to talk to someone about dance on the following Monday, because apparently only one person in the entire university could speak to a prospective student and they had no idea where she was). At the end of the day, EB's dad just said, "they didn't blow me away."
For EB though, she didn't see the dismissiveness, the lack of personal attention, the casual quick reference to the celebration of "plantation days" (though that made all three of us cringe), as negatives. She didn't want to follow in my footsteps. She was ready to Geaux Tigers, even at $40,000-plus a year. But she also liked the vibe, and it was more diverse than Kansas State. She couldn't quantify why she loved it, only that she could picture herself going there.
We couldn't. But after looking at the numbers, had we really believed she could thrive there and not get lost in the impersonal nature of it all, we would have tried to make it work. At my state U, I wanted her to go for several reasons, including the award she was given which would put the numbers she was paying closer to instate. When they really want you, you don't pay full price. When they don't care, your full price pays so the ones they really want don't have to. We couldn't make her see that.
I decided I would back off until we had time to talk about it as a family, weighing the real pros and cons of culture, diversity, opportunity, and of course, money. College is a business first and foremost. We wanted her to see that the school that was willing to make an investment in her, that kept wooing her, checking up on her, was probably going to be best for her. My sister said, you go with the boyfriend who treats you best. EB was enamored with the one who ignored her.
My husband said he would talk to her. And that's where we both blew it. Instead of us all sitting down, he just told her she was going to Kansas State, and that was that. She cried all night, didn't go to school the next day, she and I talked, then the three of us talked. We apologized for the ham-fisted way of coming to the decision we had told her she would be able to make. But she wasn't able to see the forest for the trees. I did tell her that if she absolutely hated K-State after one year, she could transfer, a gamble I'm willing to make, but a promise I will absolutely keep. She decided she could go to LSU for graduate school. At least this way there will be money for graduate school. And who knows what she will want a year, or four, from now?
Gradually, she is warming to the idea of the Little Apple (the nickname for Manhattan, Kansas). I started warming to it even more when I went through the paperwork and saw the president of the university had sent her a letter way back when, welcoming her to KSU (Where was yours, LSU? One measly folder, two emails, then crickets). Once we signed up for orientation, she started getting more excited.
Yes, we handled it badly. I hope she will forgive us that. But we think this will be a place where she can make her own path, and if not, she will be able to find a new one. It was a bloody battle to get to this point. I hope it will make us all stronger. In the meantime, Go Wildcats.
And you'd better take damn good care of my Earbaby.