WASHINGTON — The acceptance envelope from Towson State University was pretty cool.
Featuring a picture of the bronze tiger mascot, it simply said in bold lettering, "You're In!"
One down and two more schools to hear from before my daughter Jillian gets to decide where she'll attend college. She's the last of my three children to go off to pursue a degree. And honestly, it can't happen soon enough.
Three times is not a charm when it comes to the anxiety around college selection. I hate the application process. There's so much pressure to stand out. Then there's the wait.
Just before Christmas, a rejection letter for early admission from one university sent my daughter, an honor-roll student, into a funk for several days. The letter said the school recognized her aptitude but that it had "an overwhelming response this year from many academically talented applicants."
It broke my heart to see her so dejected. She didn't care that the admissions committee said it recognized the strength of her academic credentials and offered her encouragement that she'll be considered during the regular decision review.
You want your child to get a good education. But our kids are led to believe that if they don't get into a certain university, their life path will be disastrous. To them, a rejection signals they aren't good enough.
So, when they get an acceptance letter, especially from a prestigious university, parents throw financial caution to the wind. If your kid gets in, how do you not move heaven and earth financially to make his or her dream come true?
Just before the holiday break, during my weekly live chat, I received two college-related questions from parents. Both were pretty telling about the angst young adults are feeling.
Q: I know what you've said about sending one's kids to state university or a combo of community college and State U, and I totally agree. Then stupidly I told my high school senior to apply wherever she wanted and "we'll see where you get in." Big mistake! She got in everywhere and is begging to be sent to that darn dream school that costs almost three times as much as other choices. I have tried "no" as a complete sentence, but that isn't enough so she really gets it. Can you remind me what to say firmly and lovingly that will help her understand why, and that she'll be just fine at the less-expensive school? I will stand firm on not borrowing or mortgaging my home for this! Just want peace in the house.
A: If your child did everything you asked and excelled in high school, saying no to her dream school seems like a betrayal.
And yet, you have to be the adult with the foresight to understand it's the student — not the school — that matters most.
Get this book: "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be — An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania," by Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist. In it, Bruni writes:
"The nature of a student's college experience — the work that he or she puts into it, the skills that he or she picks up, the self-examination that's undertaken, the resourcefulness that's honed — matters more than the name of the institution attended. Education is indeed everything, but it happens across a spectrum of settings and in infinite ways."
Walk through the numbers and the debt that your daughter will have to take on to go to her top choice. If she still presses you, stay strong. Don't spend more than what you can afford.
Q: My college-age daughter is home for the holidays. The things she has been learning in economics and sociology class are making her sad and depressed. She looks at the trends and sees rising inequality, employment uncertainty, an ever-increasing public debt, a fragile safety net, etc., and concludes that there is no future. I have said you're not wrong about the problems, but the only hope for the future is to act with hope: Get up, look for work, fight for justice, etc. That doesn't seem to be working. Any suggestions on how I should advise her?
A: If the depression continues, I suggest getting her some therapy. Sometimes life is overwhelming. And there's no shame in seeking professional help.
Otherwise, I think your advice is spot-on. College is typically a period in your life when your eyes are really opened, sometimes to unsettling realities.
Share the story of your own climb up through adulthood. Tell her what you yourself have done to fight for a better world. And continue to encourage her to have hope in the future. That's the true source of change.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1150 15th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at SingletaryM or Facebook at facebook.com/MichelleSingletary.