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Sending kids to college, or not

July 06, 2023

My son graduated from high school last month, I'm glad to say.  The kids who graduated from high school in 2023 are resilient, and their accomplishments mean something totally different than it meant for me!  They’ve been through a pandemic, which turned their school experience into something akin to a zombie apocalypse—meeting their teachers and classmates in a zoom room instead of a classroom…seeing their teacher’s kitchen, living room, or wherever their teacher was sitting to hold class. Those students who were new had a completely different (and much harder) "new kid at school" experience. These students had to sit in front of a computer all day for class, something the Academy of Pediatrics Association has been saying for years affects kids in many negative ways. These students didn’t have social interactions with their peers, with their cousins or even their grandparents for…how long was it? Almost a year? And when we all finally came out of lockdown, everyone was wearing masks, and these kids never saw their teachers or their classmates smile at something kind or funny that was said.  I can’t imagine what that was like for all these teenagers whose brains were developing, whose understanding of social cues was developing, and whose hormones were going crazy all while their social environment consisted of Insta, Snap, Discord and Tik-Tok.

These high school graduates didn’t get their driver’s license the day they turned 16–most faced delays getting into Drivers' Ed because of the lockdown. These high school graduates missed out on Homecoming, and football games and pep rallies and after school clubs—yet here they are, applying to colleges having had a shortened time in which to start nonprofits and get a patent on an invention and all the other crazy high expectations college admissions people have nowadays.  Even after facing “these unprecedented times,” these kids are doing all the things I did after high school anyways. Wow. I’m so happy for them, and I’m so impressed! I can’t wait to see what else they do that surpasses all expectations!

So that said, all during the college application process, I worried about my son going away to school.  Way back at the beginning of his senior year, I didn't feel he would be ready to go off to school just yet.  Socially, he was hitting his stride during his senior year after a rough "new kid at school" introduction during the lockdown.  It seemed his friends, his role in the school play and the various chorus competitions he went to consumed his time and his mental energy--and I never did see that internal focus on his academics that would make me think he was ready to go off to school set in. Despite my warnings, he only applied to three colleges--his top choice, his stretch school, and a safety school.  He turned down a scholarship to his safety school--he realized he just didn't want to go there.  He never heard back from his stretch school--making me wonder if he even finished the application.  He got accepted into a bridge program for his top choice--and I am thrilled to announce that he'll be living at home next year, attending classes at the local community college while taking one class at his top choice school.  He'll transfer to his top choice school in his Sophomore year.  Things have a way of working out for the best.

My Ex and I don't have a clause in our agreement that requires either of us to pay for the kids' college costs.  We had a brief email exchange about how to help our son pay for school, and I said I would not be fronting any expenses for our son's college.  I've told my son he'll need to take out loans, and once he graduates and gets a job, I'll help him pay them off.  For this kid, I truly believe he needs some "skin in the game" in order to stay focused on graduating in four years--so I'm doubly thrilled he can live at home during his first year instead of taking out loans to live in a dorm (in his hometown).  I've shown him the same "effects of debt on building wealth" exercise I show my clients, so he's fully aware of how much carrying school loans will impact his finances as he's starting out.  We've also discussed that my priority at this point in my life is saving money to fund my retirement--so I'm never dependent on my kids.  Getting divorced mid-life was financially devastating--and I owe it to my kids to keep that fact in mind.

I see clients who face this same struggle in their own lives--whether it's wanting to stay in the house after the divorce or whether it's wanting to pay for college.  One of the toughest adjustments to make after a divorce is accepting that everything you'd planned is different now, and you have to consider your current circumstances as you make your financial decisions going forward.  I help my clients work through the process of resetting their goals and developing a savings strategy to reach them, and they tell me that part in our work together is the hardest part of my process, but the part that has the most impact.  Sometimes, you need an outside perspective to help you see your situation clearly, and numbers don't lie.  If you'd like my help in resetting your goals and developing a savings strategy, then schedule a consult with me here or sign up to attend one of my upcoming Workshops here.  I'll help you gain clarity about your financial situation and a plan for financial stability.