Having Second Thoughts About Sending Your Child Off to College in These Difficult Times?

Having Second Thoughts About Sending Your Child Off to College in These Difficult Times?

The deposit is in, and your family has made the best decision possible about what school to attend in the fall, given the pandemic.

But as the days have passed, you’ve started to wonder if it was the right decision.

Or perhaps your child is returning to college or considering a school for 2021, and the location is giving you pause.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? You’re not alone.

Parents all over the country are wondering the same thing.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, two parents discuss their opposing views on whether it’s safe to send their kids back to school, and whether safety is the real issue: “‘It would be like sending them on a cruise ship,’ says Dr. Kavita Nanda, a public-health physician in Cary, N.C. Doctor Nanda worries that while their age group might have a low mortality rate, the long-term complications and effects that result from getting sick with Covid-19 are unknown.”

The mother of twin sons in college, she argues that people are thinking more about their own children instead of considering the safety of the entire community.

The other parent, Ms. Kris Koval, a lawyer who is now a novelist, feels colleges should open, and while safety is important, there are always dangers: “All of life is a risk calculation,” she says.

Some of the families from our Paying for College 101 Facebook group weighed in on COVID-19, protests around the country, how they’re feeling about the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year, and choices they’ve made or are considering, especially given the myriad ways schools that will open are approaching how they open.

Here are some highlights (lightly edited for clarity and length)…

 

Parents Reply to the Question: Anyone Having Cold Feet?

Yes! Cold feet and whole darn body. We hate to send him 1200 miles from home to end up with all online classes. We were planning to send him regardless of COVID-19 knowing the risks (he is very low risk and knows safety practices), and assuming the precautions the school will take. But to send him that far to sit in a dorm and do nothing but online classes, we’d rather not. Maggie

Agree! Too much money for an inferior education. Jennifer 

Yes, but for a strange reason. We just found out that Temple might not be allowed to let incoming students use the GI Bill, which is how we were planning on paying for school. The rep we talked to isn’t sure if the university did enough to change the Veteran’s Administration’s decision and, if not, how long the ban will be in place. Really hard to know what to do! Nikki

My daughter suddenly has cold feet about both her college and path in life as the reality of taking out her first student loans sinks in. She’s just getting the federal subsidized and unsubsidized loans. But now she sees how much it will be for four years . . . her school will apply any scholarships to reduce financial aid, but I think that includes loans. She’s leaving for college in a week! I’m not sure even what to think at this point. Barbara

Both of our college kids had second thoughts before and during freshman year. They both came to us with the “What am I doing?” question. They both said, We were guided this way through high school, but is this what Im supposed to do? It scared us as parents. They both had questions about the debt that was about to occur. It is scary, but I do believe in them and also know that they have a lot to offer this world . . . It will all work out and they will still doubt things at times–this is normal. Misty

My son moves in tomorrow and started getting cold feet last night (“Maybe I should have . . .”).  I think it’s a very common and normal part of dealing with big changes in life. Reassure her that it will be okay–even if she decides to change her path after the first semester, it will all work out. Lots of people change majors and/or transfer schools at some point. Shannon

These second thoughts are normal. This is a big cliff these high school kids are about to jump off into a much bigger and different world. Jitters are the norm, but panic attacks, anxiety, and depression need more help. All kids experience this at some point along the way, but when it occurs it’s different for each of them. Keep that positive reinforcement up from the wise parent standpoint. Some need a little nudge and will do just fine once they are in their new college life. Misty

 

Parent Admits to Having Misgivings; Questions Others

One of my kids attends college in a major metropolitan area, and her housing this fall is on the 20th floor of a high-rise building. (Envisioning lots of people close together, lots of elevator use, and daily use of crowded mass transit.) I confess, the lingering concerns about the contagion already had me a little apprehensive about her being in a big city. But adding risks of looting, rioting, and/or the need for the National Guard to maintain order? I just don’t know how I feel about actually spending money to take chances with multiple health and safety concerns . . . Recent events have me seriously considering having her switch exclusively to online classes for the fall, regardless of whether or not the school chooses to physically reopen. Thoughts? Sabrina

Responses

I am near Chicago, not in Chicago. But if anyone is sending a child to Chicago or a suburb, please know, I am only a message away if your child needs help. Meg

My suspicion is that the “close quarters” of the big city wont play a huge role in the transmission rate of the virus among college students, because I think that once they all get back together its going to spread like wildfire regardless of where they go. And even within each city, some parts of every city are relatively safe and some are not, so awareness is key. Cities bring many opportunities and many challenges, so school in the big city is probably a better option for students with advanced maturity. I suspect that she will be fine . . . For these big-city colleges it is not, as they say, their first rodeo. They know how to take care of the students and the students know how to take care of each other. Michael

My daughter will be a junior in the fall. She lives in an apartment and never moved home during this crisis. She’s about 90 minutes away. She has two on-campus jobs that started two weeks ago when her campus reopened. They will be in class in the fall. They have 11,000 students in a small-town atmosphere that is within an hour of three major cities. The new normal goes on. We wear masks. We listen to science facts. We practice safety protocols. But we won’t hide out. And neither will our daughter. There are lots of dangers out in the world every day. This adds one more. But, as with the others, we and she try to lessen those dangers by choices, lifestyle, and personal responsibility. Kimberly

My daughter is going to Temple (in Philly) in the fall. Last night my husband asked if we’re sure we want to send her there. I said at least we are only 30 minutes away. Christine

I admire the kids who are knowingly taking things in stride. They are showing grit, flexibility and resilience. I actually think it is harder for us than them! Jennifer

My daughter really wants to attend our flagship university in a larger city (Madison, WI). I want her to go to the second-best state school for her major where it is a smaller, less urban campus and it costs $10k less per year. I not only think she would be safer and it’s less populated, but it’s extremely affordable and offers everything she needs. It’s an hour from the flagship and she can visit friends there and have fun when she feels like it. Unfortunately, my daughter wants to be where she can be an activist and a voice for her beliefs, and I get that. I am trying to put things into perspective for her, but with all the craziness this year from the virus among all the other stuff happening, it is difficult. Nicole

Remind her that her voice can be heard wherever she is. It is not about where you are, rather, who you are. Jennifer

So many layers . . . In regards to urban schools, I’ll flip the question and ask, is it safer/better to be at school in the far hills with a lack of diversity? The challenges that come with being one of a few in times like this brings another emotional dimension for people of color, and that would scare me more (whole ’nother conversation).

Last night after all hell broke out in my city, the university I work for sent out an emergency shelter-in-place order. You learn what to do and where to go when you live in a city–that’s just city life, I think. Schools will do what they can to protect, but students will have to be smart about things too.

There will always be risks of one kind or another–we can’t wrap our kids in a bubble, right? ( I am, however, of the OPINION that going away to college is a bit overblown–the “college experience” is bit overblown. The risk vs reward, of this particular state we are in as a country, would make me move with extreme caution. Some people have a higher risk tolerance, and that’s cool. But if your gut says that she needs to sit this one out, go with it. In four years, the degree will be the same. Potential employers won’t ask, Did you spend a few semesters online? The end goal of college is a degree. Sharise

I don’t think you are being overprotective. IMO it is a much bigger risk to be in a big-city, 20-story building, using public transportation daily, vs. a suburb or small town. It comes down to a numbers game for me. How many people will she have to interact with on a daily basis compared to her sibling in a smaller environment? Unfortunately, there is no perfect answer on what to do. Lisa

The world is a really tough place here in 2020. I sincerely hope that what comes out of their generation is a whole new level of maturity and depth of character, and value in each other as individuals. We refer to people by all kinds of things including jobs, nationality, and other things. When I was an exchange student way back in the day, the early programs were all about teaching youth when they were impressionable that no matter who you are, there are people who have hurts and fears, joys and cares and are just like us–they cry the same kind of tears. Viviane

I wish the colleges would ask the kids who can live at home to live at home and do the semester online. And of course, that would come with no housing costs for those kids. For us, it would save thousands of dollars. I just don’t want to be the one to tell my kid–I want it to come from the college. She’s eager to leave to start her school adventure, but I’m thinking this isn’t going to be the best beginning. Shannon

Sorry, whether a campus is located in an urban location or out in the boonies, college students will be living together, attending classes together. No type of campus will be a bubble. Jennifer

Equally pressing is the potential for violence and being in a city that’s partway on fire. She just got the campus alert on her phone to shelter in place because rioters have reached their section of the city. This kind of thing just isn’t happening in rural colleges right now. Sabrina

I have lived in cities large and small, and crime and protests happen everywhere, including college campuses. Teach your child street smarts and to recognize situations that can boil over, and to listen to campus alerts. Campus alerts are part of college life for a lot of reasons. As we know, school shootings happen anywhere, just as protests do . . . these things are not relegated to the cities only, even though what is currently shown on TV are protests in larger cities. Your child needs to fly, and what you have taught them is a large part of how they will fly. Teach them that hard, ugly things, including what has led up to these protests, can and do happen everywhere. Remind them that paying attention is necessary, and that there are risks everywhere–empower your children. Jennifer

We are in Houston, and the university borders the third ward, but I feel the students will be safe within the college grounds. This university fosters a love for diversity and it is indeed very diverse–that’s why we like it. I don’t see any issues coming from within. My daughter will be commuting anyway, and her dad will drop off/pick her up for the first semester. Regarding COVID-19, she will wear a mask and wash her hands constantly. If she gets sick, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. We won’t keep her in a bubble. Rosa

When my daughters school reopens, I’m going to let her go. Im not going to live our lives in fear. IMO if you have fear you dont have faith. She is the daughter of an RN, so she knows what to do to keep herself safe. Everything else is in Gods hands. Im confident she will be fine and safe. Tamara

Right now, there are cars burning on the street where my other daughter goes to school. The place where she buys her morning coffee has been boarded up, and they’re praying it won’t be looted. Her dorm will have her 20 floors up. And (may God forbid) if there’s ever trouble, she only has three points of egress out of that building.
Three.
This isn’t a lack of faith. It’s an awareness of the different risks. My boys are at suburban schools too. And seriously, ain’t nobody coming to loot, riot or burn near their schools–what are they going to do, hit the empty Dover speedway?
It’s just a lot of different risks to factor in when it’s a large city that’s already shut down. . . I’m barely even registering the black thing right now. Except to know that I’m not planning to attend even peaceful protests because of the inherent risks of what happens to people who look like me even if someone else starts acting up . . . it’s sad all the way around.
Sabrina

Dear Sabrina, You are not being overprotective. Let me repeat that: You are NOT being overprotective! I’m living in a “hot” city, right now. I have uncomfortable, yet necessary, conversations about evacuation plans with my son–in the event of this happening, those types of discussions. Teresita

As my son said to me, “75 years ago American boys, many as young as 17, stormed the beaches of Normandy. My generation is bitching and moaning because they can’t go to college the way they wanted to. At least they get to go to college. 75 years ago thousands didn’t make it to see college.” Jennifer

My daughter is still on campus at UCLA. She will be subletting all summer and continuing in the fall, however that may look. I say a prayer and take one day at a time. It is not always easy. She is adopted Asian, and the COVID-19 issue has had its share of unkindness toward her. Dianne

 

Things Are Still Changing

To add to the difficulty of making the final decision is the possibility of a second pandemic wave before kids head off to school.

What will happen then? Could states mandate closures?

Do parents want to wait that long to find out?

Each family will ultimately need to decide what’s best for them, and when it’s time to make the call–and even then, things may change.

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Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz is a writer, and the acquisitions editor for Jim Donovan Literary, an agency that represents book authors. She's written about health and parenting for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, AARP’s The Girlfriend, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Next Avenue, NBC’s Today.com and many other publications. Her memoir/self-help book From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life was published by Sourcebooks in 2016.
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