Why is Applying for College so Painful?

I’m drowning in college applications, college essays, SAT and ACT scores, and a completely drained checkbook. GOING to college is supposed to drain the financial life from a family, but applying to college?

I realize that part of my challenge this year is that I have TWO high school seniors applying to colleges. That means that the costs, the time, the headaches, the campus visits are all doubled. I can’t begin to describe how burnt out on writing essays I am and I haven’t personally written any! I’ve just proofread, edited, and helped trim-to-fit-the-length-restrictions on so.many.essays, I feel like I COULD write them in my sleep.

Every school has its own deadline. Some have early application; some have early decision. Some early decision applications are binding and some are not. Some schools have deadlines for applications and then EARLIER deadlines for scholarship consideration. Some schools will flex on the deadlines and some are absolutely rigid.

Some schools collaborate to restrict students to ONE early-decision application. Some schools don’t care. Some schools take the Common App and consider it done. Some require the Common App PLUS several more school-specific essays. Some have their own proprietary application.

Some applications can be completed in 20 minutes. Some take 20 hours. Some schools require paper transcripts, to be mailed through the USPS. Some require electronically mailed transcripts.

Being a home educator complicates things for me. EVERY school requires something different from me. One school asked me to list every single text used for every high school class on the transcript. (“Son, please take School X off of your list!”) Some schools ask for letters of reference; some do not. Some schools allow me to function as the high school guidance counselor; some require that I find someone else to provide the information that a guidance counselor would normally provide.

Keeping track of who is who and who needs what requires a spreadsheet! Writing the checks for the application fees for each school just about requires a second mortgage!

Yesterday, Baby A and I were busy wrapping up his application at one of his top college choices. He read some fine print for the first time and realized that in order to meet the deadline for Application-with-consideration-for-scholarship-eligibility, we needed to have a notarized paper copy of his transcript in their office by 5 PM yesterday. Impossible.

Baby A got on the phone to the admissions office and asked if there was any flexibility. He is, after all, very interested in their school. Nope. No flexibility at all. The admissions lady told him primly that they take great pride in the fact that they make no exceptions for their deadlines. Ever.

He hung up the phone and said, “Well, I can still apply for admission but I won’t be eligible for any scholarships. At all. No exception.”

Well, that’s their call. They missed out on a good student in my Baby A.

I was just relieved to cross that school off the list altogether. It doesn’t seem like it should BE this hard!

Rude People, Be Gone!

This morning I went for a walk with a friend, like I sometimes do on Mondays. As we were walking out my front door, we were talking and I inadvertently locked the door, although I didn’t have a key on me. I realized it just as the door shut tight.

Thankfully it was a clear, fall morning, so we started off on our walk anyway, and I sent Daisy a quick text at the high school, to see if there was any way she could be dismissed long enough to come let me in with her key. I knew Jed was in meetings all morning, or I’d have phoned him. Daisy’s school is only a couple of miles away, so at most she’d be out of school 20 minutes.

She texted back a few “hahahas” and then said it was no problem. So I phoned the school and somehow ended up being connected to the office of the school guidance counselors. I quickly (and a little breathlessly) explained my situation, and asked if Daisy, a senior, could be dismissed for a half hour at most. My request was met with silence.

“Hello? Are you there?” I asked. Back came the very unfriendly voice of one of the guidance secretaries.

“Is it an emergency?” To which I responded that yes, I was locked out without key, purse, or anything besides my cell phone. I then went on to say that I had texted Daisy in class to make sure she wasn’t taking a test or something.

More silence. Then, “They are not supposed to be texting in class.”

REALLY? THAT is your response? I was a bit dumbfounded, so I just sort of mumbled that yes, I knew that, but, well, hmmm.

She then transferred me to the Attendance Office, where I again explained my situation, to which the kind lady chuckled and then promised to send Daisy home right away to rescue me.

Now I ask you, why did the first lady have to be so mean? When Daisy got home about 10 minutes later, I told her the story of the mean guidance secretary and told her I hoped I hadn’t gotten her into trouble. Her response? “My teachers don’t care, as long as I’m doing my work. Don’t let it bother you, Mom, you should have told her off!”

Understand that I work at that school quite often as a substitute teacher. I have had two children go to that school, one who graduated last year, and one who will graduate this spring. Daisy is very involved and I’d be shocked if the secretary in question doesn’t know her personally; she probably knows who I am, too.

I understand rules, but legalism has no place in my life or the lives of my children. As much as I’ve appreciated so many things about this school, especially the many wonderful teachers, I will be so relieved next summer NOT to have to deal with ridiculousness like this any longer.

Is College the Best Option?

I was raised to go to college. In fact, when I was still very young, one of my mom’s friends, with whom I was very close (I still think of her like an aunt) told me that one day she just KNEW she’d see me in the White House.

Well, I did live in a white house for seven months while my husband was stationed in Rhode Island, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what she meant.  Whatever the case, my parents AND their friends told me I would get educated and become some kind of a success.

Bottom line, college was never an option or a hope – it was just assumed that both my brother and I would go. I did, and my brother did not. He could have, but he chose not to. Long story, I won’t go there, he’s fine, working hard, and enjoying life.

I’ve raised my own children to go to college. I never considered whether or not they could or should, it was just the thing that was going to happen. We homeschooled them with the classical model, because we thought it was the best one to teach them how to think, how to reason, how to be logical, and of course, how to study hard. When they went on to public high school, they were more than prepared and they all excelled.

Now Rocky is finishing up his Master’s degree, but he is very disillusioned with academia and has decided not to go on to pursue his PhD, which was the original plan. Petunia is in her freshman year of college, with several thousand dollars worth of loans helping to cushion what scholarships won’t cover.

And now it is time for Daisy to go to college. Of my three children, she has been the best student – that’s not to say she’s any smarter than the other two, but she’s jumped through all the proverbial hoops that colleges like. She’s taken AP classes, participated in varsity sports three years running, joined multiple clubs, is active in NHS, and she’s had the same part time job for two years. Even her SAT scores are competitive. She’s also a talented writer, so she’ll probably have a competitive essay for her college applications.

BUT – this seems to be the generation of kids who get big time degrees but who can’t find jobs to match them.

I know several families whose SMART kids have returned home – yes HOME – after graduating college, forced to move back in with mom and dad so they can work three minimum wage jobs only to pay off their student loans. They can’t find jobs in their field, and they can’t earn enough to live on their own and pay off those loans.

Yet – there sit the community colleges offering two-year degrees for a cost that will require no loans at all. And the two-year degree will produce a person who has a marketable skill, such as dental hygienist, mechanic, or what have you. There are ALWAYS jobs in those fields.

So that begs the question – what are we telling our kids? Daisy is part of the “crowd” at the public school which is college bound. They are all athletes with good grades and the right high school “pedigree” if you will. She is looking at colleges all out of state, which are far out of our price range (let’s face it, all but the community college are out of our price range) and she just assumes she’ll have scholarships and let loans cover the rest… to a point, of course.

But is this what’s best? And even if I’m not sure it is, has the dye been cast in Daisy’s mind so much that she wouldn’t even consider options other than the 4-year college?

I have far more questions than answers and usually I just feel like I’m being swept along by a current over which I have no control.  So, as with most things in this stage of life, I’ll keep hanging on for the ride.

on Choosing Well

Janette died last week. I learned this on Facebook.

Janette has always been someone who has challenged me to think about choices. Mostly it’s been Janette’s CHOICES that have challenged me.

Janette and I were in high school marching band together, in the woodwinds section. We weren’t close friends, but we were friendly and hung around together in the band section during football games. When she found me on FB, I didn’t think twice about accepting her friend request. We exchanged a few catch-up messages that were really more me telling my story more than actually asking about her life. Then, as so often happens on Facebook, the conversation dwindled out. And I didn’t think much about Janette again.

Janette’s life always followed a different track than mine. Shortly after she finished college, Janette chose a role that most women in their early 20’s don’t take on. Janette’s brother, Todd, was abandoned by his wife. Todd had a baby boy to care for and two jobs to juggle. Janette put her career plans on hold and stepped in to help her brother. She was caring for her nephew when tragedy struck and that little boy was diagnosed with leukemia.

At our 10-year high school reunion, most of us showed up with husbands in tow and pictures of our babies and toddlers. A few women were pregnant. A few had older children. A few were still single and Janette was one of those. Janette, however, had her own pictures of “her boy.” She was fulltime caregiver for her nephew and she adored him. She showed off his picture just as proudly as if he were her own. The little guy was fighting the good fight against that leukemia.

At our 20-year high school reunion, many of us were dealing with adolescent kids. Some classmates were on their second or third spouse. Janette still had pictures of her nephew.

Just weeks earlier, Janette’s nephew had finally lost the leukemia fight as a young teenager. Janette wanted desperately to talk about how consuming the fight had been. She wanted to talk about her nephew’s last days. We listened, but not with a lot of comprehension or empathy. We really didn’t understand the road she’d been walking. All we saw was a 38-year-old woman who had devoted her entire life to a little boy who had just died. It looked like she had put her entire life on hold to care for her nephew. I secretly wondered what on earth she would do next. Had she missed the window of opportunity for her OWN happiness?

A few years ago, our 30-year high school reunion came and went. I didn’t attend because I lived across the country. I avidly pored over the photos that my classmates posted. Janette didn’t attend that reunion either and I don’t think anyone even wondered why. She had always been a pretty quiet person, so she probably wasn’t even missed.

Then Janette found me on Facebook two years ago. We exchanged those few messages. She really didn’t tell me much about her life and it never occurred to me to wonder much….until last week.

There in my Facebook feed was a status referring to Janette’s death. I did a huge double-take and scrambled to find out what happened. This is what I learned. After years and years of fighting breast cancer herself, Janette had finally died. I did some mental math. By my calculations, Janette received her cancer diagnosis only two years after her nephew slipped away. Years of photos show pictures of Janette, bald from chemo and looking really rough…for YEARS.

I realized that now I knew the answer to what came next for my high school friend after her nephew died. She faced her own mortality. The funeral home’s guestbook entries reflected a woman who was deeply loved, who deeply cared for others, who constantly “did” for others, who lived her life serving the people around her. Even though she never had the time or opportunity to marry and have her own family, her life was far from empty.

And then she died, three days after her 50th birthday.

Janette’s community mourns her loss deeply.

And I’ve been thinking about choices. About the paths our lives take, sometimes paths we knowingly choose, sometimes path we don’t consciously choose. Janette’s path was so very different from my own, but clearly right and good. Part of me feels a little sorry for the things that Janette never got to experience, but I’m not sure that’s the RIGHT thing to feel. I think that probably, at the end of the day, Janette knew she’d made the right choices all along. In fact, I know that she knew this.

You see, the last message Janette sent me on Facebook said, “I hope all continues to go well for you. God certainly is good. He takes us down paths that we don’t expect, doesn’t He and things always seem to work out.”

Rest in Peace, dear Janette.

I STILL get in Trouble with other Moms

I got in trouble yesterday.

For the last several weeks I’ve been playing matchmaker between an elderly relative on the other side of the country who needs a companion and a young lady in our community who is floundering around trying to figure out what comes next in life for her. Leah is a lovely young woman who has grown up in the local homeschool community. She is talented, smart and very beautiful. Leah doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and isn’t willing to put in any more semesters at the university until she figures that out.

When Aunt Sadie called to tell me that she really does, finally, need help driving (thank you, Jesus!) and just managing the mechanics of life and would I please keep my eye out for a young woman who might be a suitable companion…well, Leah was the first to come to mind.

Aunt Sadie came to visit and met Leah. They both enjoyed each other and are willing to start a dialog about what a companion job might look like.

Then yesterday, Leah’s mom confronted me at Bible study. She needed to talk to me about what I had been doing behind her back (!) with her daughter.


Leah is 21. I didn’t MEAN to go behind anyone’s back! Leah doesn’t live at home anymore. It honestly never occurred to me to ask her parents if it was okay to share a job opportunity with their daughter.

I was discussing the situation with Mountain Man and he pointed out that if some other family was trying to convince my 17-year-old that he needed to take a job 3000 miles from home, I would probably want to be part of the conversation. And while Leah is 21, she is a girl…and I don’t really know how differently protective I might feel about a daughter.

What this little dust-up has illustrated for me is that even when our kids get big, different parenting styles and choices can still cause tension. I wouldn’t think twice about someone persuading my 21-year-old son to travel across the country for a job, but some other mom might.

Our differences no longer center around what curriculum we use or whether or not we believe in spanking or junk food or dating. The issues may well be BIGGER!

I listen to another one of my friends talk about her expectations on her married daughter and grandchildren. Yikes. SO not how I would approach things, but evidently it’s how things run in THAT family.

The challenges of navigating different parenting approaches haven’t gone away. I still have the ability to get into trouble with other moms. I STILL need to live graciously with differences.



Basketball Woes

Daisy plays basketball on the varsity team at her high school. She made varsity her sophomore year and played extensively in the first few games of the season, but then was benched after that. The coach put her in sometimes for the last couple of minutes of each game, but that was all. She went to the coach multiple times and spoke with her about it, but the coach only told her she needed to play better, like she did at the beginning of the season. She was never given any specifics.

And when she was put in for those couple of minutes, or sometimes just 30 seconds, not only was she playing cold after sitting the bench all evening, she was paranoid about playing well, and consequently made all kinds of mistakes. After playing (and loving) the game since 2nd grade, suffice it to say, Daisy’s sophomore year of basketball really did a number on her.

Junior year, she nearly didn’t go out for basketball, but her friends on the team urged her to play, and she ended up starting each and every game. But sadly, the coaching was still just as lousy. The girls were constantly told how terrible they were, but they were never told WHY. The coaching style was like boot camp, with the only feedback being put downs and insults. Positive reinforcement was an unknown, except for the occasional, “Yes, now THAT is what you should have been doing all along, and you’d BETTER keep that up,” always said with a scowl. In spite of being a primary starting player, Daisy hated her basketball season and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

One might ask why we, as parents, didn’t say or do anything about this nonsense. Believe me, we considered it. It was a constant topic of discussion between Jed and me. But the bottom line is that in our small town school, the athletic director thinks this coach hangs the moon. The administration is 100% supportive of the athletic director, and the school board is 100% supportive of the administration. We had nowhere to go. What’s more, we had seen girls in the past whose parents had intervened, and they were black-balled by the coaching staff.

Our only choice was to grin and bear it or find Daisy another school or another program. There are no other basketball programs offered in our area during the school year, we couldn’t afford private school, and sending her to another public school in another town had the same price tag as a private school. If she wanted to play basketball, it was this program or nothing.

So for the past many months, Daisy has been on the fence about whether or not she’ll play this year, her senior year – the year she will be captain of the team. For the past several weeks, she has played in a non-competitive league with the goal of having fun and getting warmed up for the season. She plays with all the girls on her varsity team. Although the varsity coach has a daughter on the team, she is not allowed to “coach” her team off season, so she sits in the stands with the other parents, scowling most of the time.

Yet the coach of this off season team is a former high school player who clearly takes all her cues from the real coach. Everyone knows it’s a sham, but no one says anything.

This past week, the games were scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Daisy had been fighting a cold, so we skipped church and let her sleep in as long as she wanted. Finally at 11:30, I woke her, and her cold was much worse. She told me she couldn’t go to the game. This was the first time I could remember her ever being sick enough to decide for herself that she wasn’t going to play basketball. I had made her stay home before, but she had never initiated it herself. She contacted the young coach and told her the situation. In response, the coach rudely told her that she shouldn’t have given such late notice. Daisy was taken aback, but shrugged it off.

The next day, still sick, Daisy dragged herself to school, only to be met by one of her teammates who told her that the young coach, as well as the varsity coach were very angry with her for letting them know so late that she couldn’t make the game.

I was furious when I heard this. It’s bad enough that the coach has such a negative impact on these girls during the season, but I was not going to stand by and watch it happen off-season. I emailed both the young coach and the varsity coach. I was drippingly sweet, but I basically told them both that discussing their anger at an absent player in front of the team was completely inappropriate.  And by the way, SHE WAS SICK.

I received a very quick response back from the varsity coach telling me that she couldn’t be expected not to behave as a parent, and that as a parent, she was disappointed for HER daughter that her teammate let her down. Gimme a break. She also talked about leadership, the fact that Daisy is a senior, etc. Whatever. Later that evening, I got a response back from the young coach that clearly had been written by the varsity coach. No apologies, no owning their wrong behavior, just more finger pointing at Daisy for handling it poorly. Yes, really.

Daisy is still talking about not playing this year. Tryouts are in two weeks. On one hand, I want to see her play. It’s her senior year, the year she’s been working toward since she was seven-years-old. She will start once again, she’ll be captain, and she’ll have seniority. Plus, she’ll have senior night, where she (and we) will be honored for her basketball career. In a sense, this is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Yet… on the other hand, I’d love to see her quit, I’d love to see the coach’s face when she tells her, I’d love to go to the coach, the athletic director, the principal, and the entire TOWN and tell them WHY she quit. I’d also love to see her have a relaxing winter of skiing and enjoying herself, rather than constantly being stressed and in tears over that stupid coach

So there you have it. Stay tuned.  Oh, and by the way, Daisy is still sick.