A Dose of Reality From the Mom of a College Senior

Reality Preview from a Mom Who’s Been There

A Dose of Reality From the Mom of a College Senior

Published December 17, 2020

Reality Preview from a Mom Who’s Been There

What does it look like when your kid has reached his last day of regular undergrad classes for the rest of his life?

As a mother of a child who is graduating fall semester of 2020, I can tell you the statistics that accompany my son’s higher education career, but they pale in comparison to the mental and emotional costs. 

The Cost of My Son’s College Education

  • Over $100,000 in total cost of attendance
  • About $15,000 out of our pockets
  • About $10,000 in Stafford Loans in his name
  • Nine Semesters.
  • Three different majors.

It actually feels very different than I expected. I thought I would feel a profound relief, and I do, but I also feel this semi-irrational fear that something could still go wrong.

Like he could neglect to take a final exam, thereby somehow flunking a required course and causing him to need a tenth semester. 

My son is a kid who did almost everything right in this college journey, (other than changing majors so many times.) He chose the second most affordable college on his list which was a state school.

He got a resident assistant (RA) job—making his on-campus room free.

He kept his merit scholarship all four years when 85 percent of the students who start with that scholarship don’t maintain the grades necessary to keep it by their senior year.

He also applied for and won institutional scholarships, private scholarships, and appealed for more aid anytime money was tight.

What’s it Like to Be Inches From the End Zone?

My son is absolutely burned out. He’s tired of learning. He’s tired of academia.

He’s tired of the omnipresent, unrelenting stress of maintaining his grade point average (GPA) for scholarship eligibility, and currently he’s tired of the stress of knowing that a low grade in this last semester could lower his overall GPA.

Delaware State University’s office of career services has been great. They send him emails about job opportunities and paid internships in his field—but right now, he is too overwhelmed and burned out to even open them.

He doesn’t plan to look at that stuff until a few months after he graduates. He needs a break. I can see the toll that affording college has had on him.

It just wasn’t like this when his dad and I went to college.

Thankfully, even still, this is a fairly happy ending. We didn’t wind up taking on any debt for his education, and his own debt is manageable.

But I’m going to be candid with you, there has been an unexpected cost: his emotional, mental, and academic exhaustion is real.

That said, he had fun in college. He learned a lot. He made lifelong friends. He forged great relationships with professors, and he learned to conduct himself with professionalism.

To hear him speak, his word choice and inflection reveals he is a well-educated, intelligent young man. His time in college has been well spent.

Advice for Parents of Matriculating College Students 

If I have any advice to offer others on the eve of my oldest son’s last day in this academic adventure, it would be this:

  1. Be effusive in praise of your child.
  2. Don’t let them grow weary of doing well.
  3. Make sure they understand that they are doing something so much more difficult than we ever had to do to get an education back in the ‘90s or 2000s.
  4. Offer them far more encouragement than criticism.
  5. Let them know how proud you are of them for working so hard to make wise choices and to save the family money.

My son is still awake. It’s two o’clock in the morning and he’s doing some kind of project on his laptop.

He’s legitimately disappointed in himself for leaving it to the last minute, because beating the submission deadline will now be a significant challenge. He just doesn’t feel like a winner at this moment. 

Unfortunately, this is how a lot of students feel, even successful ones. They need more encouragement and praise than we can probably imagine as they navigate this expensive journey of trying to afford higher education.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

All this is to say there is light at the end of the tunnel. Along came an email from the school asking how he wants his name on his diploma.

This small question encouraged him greatly. It put fresh wind in his sails in the 11th hour.

You’ll get there too. Just go into your child’s educational journey knowing that it can be stressful, it is going to be a lot of work, but there really are options and tactics for an affordable college education out there.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it for your child to have a degree that can open so many career paths for the rest of their life; stay motivated!






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