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Dear College Senior: You Don't Have to Have Everything Figured OutElizabeth Spencer
You may not realize that you've been grooming your child from an early age to go to the college you attended. Remember that harmless onesie you bought with the school logo blazoned on the front? The cute tiny sweatshirt that read, “class of 20--” with a date 20+ years in the future?
Then there’s the fact that you've been passionately rooting for your school’s sports teams your child’s entire life (“Go Blue!”). At reunions, you took the whole family (of course), proudly showing off the campus and telling your offspring all (okay, maybe not all) about those good old days.
If you loved college, it is natural for you to want your child to attend the same school. Even if you only had a halfway decent undergrad experience, you might be happy to see your son or daughter attend since, over time, the negative aspects have probably come to seem less consequential than the fun you had and the friendships you made. For many of us, college was an ideal period in our lives, and we imagine how wonderful it would be to revisit those years and share something that is special to us with our children.
Although having your child attend your university may be your dream, it is important to understand that it might not be their dream. So many factors go into choosing a college and not all of the criteria that are important to your son or daughter may be met at your school.
Occasionally our college worlds converge. Recently my husband and I were invited to attend the inauguration of the new university president. It was a beautiful experience to share the significance of that day with our son.
To start with, the school needs to be a good fit academically. I know students whose parents were able to pull strings and get them admitted to a school that was out of their reach academically and, once there, their child struggled. No one benefits in that situation. It is one thing to be challenged in college and another entirely to be overwhelmed. It is not a kindness to help your child gain admittance to a school at which he or she cannot succeed.
Other factors which may play a role in whether your school is a good possibility for your son or daughter are location, size, affordability, and areas of study in which the school specializes. It's essential that your child feel ownership about the college choice; pressuring them to go somewhere will surely backfire.
My alma mater was, naturally, the first campus my sons were exposed to. My husband went there, too, and because we have different reunion years, we went back regularly. Our children have positive memories of visiting the university when they were young and grew familiar with its special landmarks. When it came time to apply to college, my oldest son included our alma mater on his list and was accepted but ultimately attended a different school in another part of the country. We supported his decision, recognizing that it was a good choice for him (although I admit I saved his acceptance letter and tucked it away with my own).
When it was our middle son’s turn, we once again let him know that we were fine with whichever schools made his list. When he had narrowed his choices to two, one of which was “our” university, and intended to apply Early Decision to one, we tried to lay low. We were quietly thrilled when he made it his first choice and delirious when he was accepted. It was nice knowing we would have another excuse to visit our school and have even more reasons to be involved.
If your son or daughter does end up attending your alma mater it is important to let them make it their own. We try to be mindful that this is now our son’s school and allow him to create his own memories without constantly superimposing ours, although sometimes it can be hard. When our son lived in the residence hall where my husband and I met on my first day of freshman year, I confess I gushed a little but our son was tolerant and indulgently took a few pictures of us outside the entrance. I try to ask him a lot of questions about his classes and activities without using the phrase “when I was there…”
Our son observed, “I know I'm going to the same school as you and dad but I feel it’s not the same place.” And he's right. Although the school’s founding principles are the same, so much about the place has changed. Our son is a member of a fraternity; when we attended, fraternities did not exist at the school. The campus is different — there are new residence halls and classroom buildings, a new athletic center and a new student center. Some memorable buildings are gone. The administration is different, the composition of the student body is different, and there are different majors and courses.
While it’s been fun for my husband and me to see our son at our alma mater, I realize now that, when it comes to the idea of "legacy," him being there is not the most important thing. Our legacy will live on in our children through the values and ideals we've instilled in them, some of which we formed in college. No matter where our children go or what paths they choose, that part of us will always be with them.
It’s time to celebrate with the perfect gift for your new grad!