I Hope This Isn’t Your Kid’s College Experience!

Published by Wendy Nelson on

3d human with red stop signI have taken a couple weeks off from writing a new post.  The first week, I was out of the country on an amazing company-sponsored trip.  It made me feel very fortunate to be where I am today and it made me also feel very grateful for how things have worked out for me career-wise despite a very rocky start.

I decided I should share my college story and offer some lessons learned/takeaways for parents heading into the college selection and college attendance stages.

I was a good student in high school, vying for the last two years of high school with two other girls for the top spot in the class every quarter.  My SAT scores were respectable and I was looking at schools labeled “highly selective” in the paper college guides we used back then (way before the internet!).

Then, unfortunately, my college search took a detour in November of my Junior year.  My best friend at the time was looking at a very religious college with strict rules, but a futuristic campus that reminded me of the World’s Fair I had been to in 1982 in Louisville, KY.  I decided to go on an overnight visit with her over Thanksgiving weekend and I was hooked!  Of course, I had never been on an overnight visit anywhere else, but I decided this school was for me based solely on that (note that it was Thanksgiving weekend and most of the students were gone and we didn’t get to sit in on a class or anything …)and that I didn’t want to be apart from my best friend.

In fact, I was so sure that was the school for me that I didn’t apply anywhere else.  

Then my best friend and I had a huge fight and parted ways.  I pressed on with this college choice because I thought it was too late to apply anywhere else and I figured I’d make the best of it.

I was accepted to this school and received a decent merit scholarship.  I enrolled and started college that fall.  Within a couple weeks, I hated it terribly and knew I had made a bad decision. Ironically, that former best friend of mine went there too, but dropped out before the end of the semester.

I told my mom I would tough it out until the end of the semester and I did.  I then transferred to a good selective college across town.

That school I transferred to for Spring semester of freshman year was pretty good. I liked it, liked my roommate, liked my classes, but it wasn’t my “dream school” (the one I would have applied to and hopefully have gone to in the first place if this whole religious college and best friend experience hadn’t gotten in the way). I was still determined to get to my “dream school” so I applied as a transfer student for the next fall.  I was accepted and admitted.

I soon learned that I would be housed off campus at my “dream school” because there wasn’t enough room for transfer students off campus.  The school arranged the housing and I was randomly selected into an apartment with two other transfer students.  They were nice.  We got along well.  But this was a different experience than being on campus.  It was like being a commuter.  And unfortunately, I was the type of student who needed to be on campus.  I am an introvert.  I don’t make friends easily.  I can’t just “put myself out there”.

My dream school turned into a nightmare for me and I sank into a deep depression.  It got to the point that I barely got out of bed before noon.  This was a problem as I was missing classes.  I tried switching to a different major and tried joining a few things on campus, but I had no motivation left.  By the time I went to the campus counseling center, we decided it was too late to salvage my grades for the semester and determined the best decision was to drop out, go home and get healthy.

I came to realize that my “pretty good” college from Spring semester of freshman year was good enough and had felt like home when I was there.  I made arrangements to go back there in the Spring.  I got back in the swing of things and enrolled to come back the next Fall.

Then a scenario came up over the summer with a side business my step-father owned.  His full-time job was leading him to work in a different state during the week and come home on the weekends.  He had nobody to look after the side business on a daily basis.  He talked about hiring a manager.  I stepped up and said I wanted to do it.  I said college was boring and I wanted to get out and do something.  My mom and step-dad were ok with that.

As I stepped into this management position, I started having this urge to finish college.  I tried doing both as a commuter student at a local college.  It wasn’t working for me.  It’s not that it couldn’t work for me.  It wasn’t hard to do.  I just lacked the discipline to work full time and go to school full time.

I ended up not going back to college until I was married, 6 years later.  At that point, I worked full time and attended the local community college a couple nights a week to finish out one more semester’s worth of credits for a two-year degree.  Lucky for me, there was a satellite campus of a 4-year college that held classes at the community college and I was able to complete more four-year degree in Business.  What should have taken another two-and-a-half years, if I had stayed in college initially, took me four years part-time including Summers, while working full time and having 2 of my 3 girls.

I had been enrolled in 8 colleges at the time I got my bachelor’s degree.

Once I got myself back in the swing of college though, I didn’t stop.  After having my third daughter, and a few year’s break due to the ages of the 3 girls, I was determined to go back to get my MBA.  I started going to classes after work one night a week, commuting about an hour each way. Eventually I stepped it up to 2 nights a week and finished the program.  I was on the long path though.  I saw many other students come and go over the years it took me to finish.

I was 42 years old when I finished my MBA.  It was definitely worth it, both from the perspective and knowledge that I gained and for the door that it helped open for me.

My Lessons Learned – Tips for Parents

  1. Be involved in your student’s college choice.  You may have to be the “heavy” sometimes and say “we aren’t paying for you to do that.” Any financial backing you have promised can go a long way in steering your student to make a good decision.
  2. Educate yourself on options available if your student starts having doubts about his/her college decision before college starts. I didn’t think I had any options at the time, but as a parent and as someone who researches and writes about the college search process, I now know that there are many options available. There are 4-year colleges that continue to accept applications past the admission deadlines of many other schools. There are always schools with space still available after the May 1 National Decision Day. There are community colleges that offer walk-in enrollment. I could have even waited a semester and applied for Spring admission.
  3. If your student goes off to college and starts regretting his or her college choice, don’t overreact and look for help from on-campus resources. There is usually a counseling office readily available to help your student think through how to improve his or her situation and when to throw in the towel. Don’t let your student wait until it’s too late to turn things around.
  4. Don’t quickly agree when your student doesn’t want to go back to college. There are situations where it may make sense for your student not to go back, but make sure you have talked it through completely and then don’t make it easy for him or her. Dropping out of college should come with conditions around working and paying for living expenses and a plan for the future that involved some kind of training to get a good job.
  5. Encourage your student to get involved on campus – college is what you make of it. If your student says “college is boring”, it means he or she needs to get more involved!  If I had worked on campus or had been involved in a few clubs or activities, I would have been more invested in my college experience at the time and wouldn’t have found college so boring.
  6. You can try to convince your child that the grass isn’t always greener somewhere else, but like me, most will need to learn that lesson the hard way. 
  7. If your student takes a wrong turn, or several, like I did, don’t panic. There are always options. As my history shows, you can always go back. Some students will realize they just aren’t ready to settle into college for one reason or another. It doesn’t mean they aren’t smart or capable.  Some students just need to mature to a point where they really want to learn and really want to be there.




1 Comment

Chris Clau · March 23, 2017 at 12:30 pm

Good story and great lessons!

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