Dream School Meets the Real World

Dear Harlan: I’m a senior in high school, graduating this fall. I finally decided that I want to go into animation rather than architecture. However, as the end of senior year draws near, I keep having doubts about whether I should attend community college or the university that I have chosen. I earned a scholarship that will allow me to go to this community college for free! All I would have to do is buy some books and go five minutes away to complete the required credits before transferring to my dream school two years later. It sounds obvious that I should take this opportunity, but the reason I am having doubts is because I am having family issues that cause me to feel stressed out and unproductive. I’m afraid I won’t be able to stand living at home for as long as I have to. It’s a great community college, but animation is most likely not a big part of their programs. I can still learn the essentials, but it probably won’t compare to going to an actual art school. Basically, I’m stuck. If I go to community college, I can get a job while finishing my credits and save my family (and myself) a ton of money. I also can go to an actual art school afterward by saving the money from what we should have been paying if it weren’t for the scholarship. On the other hand, if I go to the university, I can have a good college experience and have some space. This way I can make new friends and gain some independence, but it would take a lot of money. So, what advice do you have for me?

— Stuck

Dear Stuck:  Graduate with $120,000 in debt, and you’ll really be stuck at home. Here are my suggestions: (1) Celebrate that you have a scholarship and a plan to attend your dream school in two years or sooner. (2) Call the university that accepted you and speak to a financial-aid counselor. Let this adviser know you have a scholarship at your local community college, and share any award letters you’ve received. See if they have more money for you (it can happen). (3) Talk to career services at the community college and at your dream school. Explain your interest in animation and identify part-time jobs. Work as an undergrad doing work you love. You can work on campus and in the community. Start working NOW. (3) Plan on going to the community college, and have an alternative living plan if your home life gets bad again. You can stay with a friend, other family members or rent a room. (5) While in community college, identify other colleges where you can pursue animation. Once you identify more schools, use financial-aid services to explore scholarships, grants and work-study programs. To sum it up: Plan to work in animation NOW. Plan on going to community college (if you can’t get more money). Plan to move out if things get rough. Plan to identify at least three other dream schools. Plan to talk to people at the schools you want to attend and find out how they paid for it. Find your people. Find your places. Create a plan. This is how you get wherever you want to go.

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Parent Doesn’t Want Child’s Grades Tied to Self-worth

Dear Harlan: How can you help students realize that their success isn’t completely wrapped up in their GPA? College counselors say that high-school students can’t get into a top state school without a 4.3 GPA? There is so much pressure to be accepted that students are having emotional breakdowns. There is widespread peer pressure. I try to avoid letting it affect my parenting, but it’s hard to avoid when it’s woven into the culture. What can we do to change this?

— Parent of a Senior

Dear Parent:  It starts with you – the parent. Make it about your kid, not about the college. I was a 3.0 student in high school (barely), struggled on my SATs, went to a state college and didn’t choose a major until my junior year. I figured it out. My parents didn’t care about the college. They didn’t tell me what I should want. They didn’t let other people dictate what I should want. They let me choose what I wanted. “What do YOU want?” is the only question they asked. They trusted that I would be successful. There’s an epidemic of students who don’t know the answer. It’s easier, safer and more comfortable for students and parents to focus on being wanted. They take classes to be wanted. They choose clubs and organizations to feel wanted. As a result, more college students than ever are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and depressed. Make college less about a school and more about your child. Make it a mantra. The best school is NOT always the best place for your child. Check out Frank Bruni’s book “Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be.” The book shares data and anecdotes from students who have gone to a wide range of schools and won big. Getting accepted to a top-tier school doesn’t guarantee happiness, fulfillment or a top-tier life.

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Student hates professor and hearing the truth

angry teacher with blackboard on the backgroundHi Harlan: My friend currently is doing a course online, and she was upset that the teacher is saying that her work is imperfect. Furthermore, some of the comments that her instructor posts are a bit unprofessional. My friend and another friend of hers say that she should do something about it. I don’t want to see our friend burn bridges with the instructor. Is there a way to remedy this? Suggestions? Online Student

Dear Online Student:  I wouldn’t tell your friend anything.  She doesn’t respond well to the truth.  Instead of complaining about her teacher, she should focus on fixing her imperfect work.  That’s it. Yes, her teacher might suck and be an awful communicator, but hating her will not improve her grade. Unless these comments are hateful, sexist, or unquestionably wrong, there’s nothing to do.  Call it a life lesson about dealing with horrible people — but I wouldn’t tell her this — she doesn’t want to hear the truth.

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