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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First Year A Rough Start; Stick It Out or Move On?

sad depressed lonely adolescent teen boy

Dear Harlan: My son is a freshman in college. He has had a rough semester. His roommate was a nightmare. The roommate drank at all hours and brought home overnight guests. He had no regard for my son or his early-A.M. classes. My son’s grades have suffered; he used to be in the top of his class. He has made some friends, but not close friends. He wants to transfer to an out-of-state school that is far less competitive but closer to his friends and girlfriend. We want him to stick it out at his current school for at least a year. How hard should we push for him to stick it out? He is so unsure of himself. We want him to be strong, but we don’t want him to give up. He worked so hard to get into his current school. What should we do to support him?

— Another Mom

Dear Another Mom:  Listen. Parents forget to listen. Some students need a break. It can be mentally, physically and emotionally grueling to go from being a straight-A high school student to being average at a highly competitive college. It’s even harder without a support system in place. Sure, I like experiencing a full year to work through the uncomfortable, but sometimes that’s too much. Have him talk to a counselor at school, and a therapist. Encourage him to speak to upperclassmen, too. Suggest that he put together a plan of what will be different at the next school. The transfer plan should include places where he’ll find connections, people he will connect with, and a timeline. His girlfriend can be one of his people, but he needs to have at least four other people. Once he has a transition plan in place, he can start to practice some of the steps at his current school. Maybe he can finish out the year. There’s nothing to gain from being miserable and alone at an ultra-competitive school versus thriving at a school where he has passion and a plan. Let him know that whatever he decides, you will always support him.

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Breaking News: College should be uncomfortable at times

IMG_6029Dear Harlan: I am 18 and going into my freshman year at a private university with about 3,000 students. I graduated with fewer than 100 students in my class, and I was not open about being gay. Going into college I am concerned about making friends, but I don’t want to hide who I am. I am living in an apartment on campus with nine other guys, and I am concerned about that because of my sexuality. On top of all of this, I am overly shy when around a lot of new people, and I’m entering an awkward situation. I feel like I am going to hate my freshman year and want to switch schools, but I also have high expectations at the same time. I really do not know how to feel going into this school year. I know joining clubs will help, and I am going to do that while in the honors program. Am I concerned and worried for nothing? — Anxious

Dear Anxious: You should absolutely be worried. And so should the 800-or-so incoming first year students. They aren’t worried about you. They’re worried about navigating the biggest transition of their lives.  They need to manage feeling shy, scared, awkward, broke, homesick, and passing classes. The need to focus on making new friends, balancing life, and making the transition to life in college. Take comfort in being connected to hundreds of concerned classmates on campus and millions of students around the world. Instead of focusing on all that will go wrong, find the people who can support you during this time of transition. That’s all. Reach out to the LGBTQ group on campus. Find allies (staff, students or professionals who are LGTBQ-friendly). Ask a counselor on campus to direct you.  Approach your resident advisor and orientation leader. Share your worries and concerns with people who have been worried and concerned before you and have answers. Once you find support on campus, you’ll know when and how to share your secrets.

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Gay, shy, anxious, and college-bound

Hello I Am Gay words on a nametag sticker to come out as a homosDear Harlan: I am 18 and going into my freshman year at a private university with about 3,000 students. I graduated with fewer than 100 students in my class, and I was not open about being gay. Going into college I am concerned with making friends, but I don’t want to hide who I am. I am living in an apartment on campus with nine other guys, and I am concerned about that because of my sexuality. On top of all of this, I am overly shy when around a lot of new people, and I’m entering an awkward situation. I feel like I am going to hate my freshman year and want to switch schools, but I also have high expectations at the same time. I really do not know how to feel going into this schoolyear. I know joining clubs will help, and I am going to do that while in the honors program. Am I concerned and worried for nothing? – Anxious

Dear Anxious: PERFECT!  You are so uncomfortable!  This is EXACTLY what you should be feeling right about now.  Here’s my advice: Don’t fight it.  Accept it and work to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.  A private university with 3,000 students is the perfect place for you to be gay, shy, and worried.  There are so many people waiting to help you.  Some are students, some are professionals, some are both.  Your job is to let your worries lead you to people and places where you can find support.  Whether it’s academics, finances, friends, roommates, relationships, homesickness, emotions, drinking, drugs, temptations, and unexpected surprises, take comfort in being surrounded with help and support. Use it. Start by connecting with the LGBTQ group on campus. Find an ally (staff, students or professionals who are LGTBQ-friendly).  Then, ask a counselor on campus, therapist, residence life staff, orientation leader, or student life professional to direct you to activities and organizations.  Unload your worries and concerns with the people who have been there and done it.  Once you find your people and places, you’ll know when and how to share your secrets.  And you might actually learn to love life in college.

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Forcing reluctant daughter to go back to ‘perfect’ college not a perfect solution

Sad lonely student sitting on stairs in collegeDear Harlan: My daughter is finishing her freshman year at what we thought was the perfect school for her. She has had a great year academically, but has not enjoyed her experience and wants to transfer. She has made efforts socially in various groups, but has not “clicked” with anyone and is very lonely. She really feels like she doesn’t belong (she is at a state university as an out-of-state student). We told her she must return for her sophomore year, because we think much of what she is experiencing is typical freshman adjustment issues (albeit perhaps tougher than normal). She is willing to do this, mainly because she doesn’t know where she would want to transfer and cannot nail down what it specifically is that she wants from a different school. Any advice on how to help her pinpoint what a transfer would do to help her? – First-Year Father

Dear First-Year Father: A year is a valiant effort. She might need a fresh start. Transferring isn’t failing.  Approximately 1 in 4 students do it.  I transferred from one “perfect” school to another.  Why not give her the freedom to figure it out?  Let her take ownership. Even if she goes to the same school it will be her decision.  Then she will have to be the one to make it work for her — not you. Wherever she chooses, encourage to find people and places on campus.  Encourage her to get a job (perfect to meet people and find a place), participate in a group experience outside the classroom (sweat, play, and pray), and to do some volunteer work (more people and places). Also, encourage her to talk to a therapist or counselor at school.  As soon as she finds her people and places on campus, she will find the perfect campus wherever she lands.

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