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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Last minute college switcheroo is dizzying for daughter

Group Of College GirlsDear Harlan: Our daughter was wait-listed by an in-state college. We were going to send her to an out-of-state college, until last week. We received word that she was accepted to the in-state college. Needless to say, her dad and I are very relieved to pay in-state tuition. It took four very unpleasant days to convince her that this was a good thing, but she has reluctantly agreed to attend. Any words of wisdom? – Relieved

Dear Relieved: Your daughter’s head must be spinning.  She was all set to go out-of-state. Now she’s going somewhere else.  It’s enough to make her want to throw up. It’s only the most unstable and dramatic transition of her life.  Here’s the wisdom – acknowledge that she should be upset. Don’t jump to, “It’s going to be great…” Instead, empathize, sympathize, and give her permission to feel whatever she’s feeling – even if her emotions make you feel awful (that’s the hardest part).  In a week or two, encourage her to find her three places and five people on her new campus. Places (activities, organization, life outside the classroom) will give her somewhere to go and things to do. People will give her support and direction. With the right people and best places, she will have an amazing college experience wherever she lands in the fall.

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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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