Paying for college: The deer-in-the-headlights, head-in-the-sand approach

girl with bookUsually I deal with important family issues head-on. If my child wants music lessons, I’ll make phone calls, do research, and visit potential instructors. If a big semester project is assigned at school, I’ll prompt and prod appropriately, gently at first and then more rigorously as the due date approaches. I am, in that regard, a hands-on, involved parent.

But when it comes to my three (yes, that’s right – THREE) kids’ impending college and FAFSA applications, I must admit I am paralyzed with fear. I don’t just mean I-don’t-wanna-deal-with-this-right-now fear; I mean deer-in-the-headlights-I-have-no-clue-where-to-even-BEGIN fear!

So since I don’t know where to begin with the scary financial aid issue, let me begin with something more calm and comfortable: an introduction to my family. As of last Friday, we have four adult children. (We had children before last Friday too, of course, but that’s when our “babies” turned 18. Sigh.) Elisabeth is 23. Somehow she graduated from college in June of 2006. By “somehow,” I don’t mean that her abilities and intelligence were ever in question; they have always been solid and strong. Instead, I mean that we somehow were able to get her through four years at an out-of-state school that charged us huge out-of-state tuition. Fortunately, she helped immensely by being a Resident Assistant in the dorms for two years (which earned her free room and board), and by enrolling in work-study programs. By the last semester of her senior year, we felt brave enough to touch her meager college fund which we knew would only be enough to pay for one semester of college, even though we’d been contributing (obviously insufficiently!) to that account for years.

Peter is 20 and, after taking a year off to work after high school, has been attending the local community college for two years. Although he knew that he could have gone directly to a university after high school, he wanted a break from academics – a decision we supported, knowing he’d eventually go back. We also supported his decision to attend a community college and, I’ll admit, were even somewhat relieved… at least from a financial point of view.

Our twins, Aleks and Kat, are now seniors in high school. Both are excellent, hard-working students and are absolutely determined to head directly to college next fall.

Being completely “wired” kids, Aleks and Kat are in the process of filling out applications online and within a week both IM’d me separately (yes, I’m “wired” too!) asking, “How much did you and Dad make last year? I need that number for my college and financial aid applications.”

Remember that deer-in-the-headlights reaction I mentioned? Add head-in-the-sand to it.

As I stared at my screen, I felt both reactions! It’s not as if I didn’t know that I’d have to deal with the financial realities of sending THREE kids to college next year. Oh, I knew all right! But until it was literally staring me in the face, I’d chosen not to deal with it. Three. Kids. In. College. Please let me hide! But I couldn’t, because when I saw that question on my screen, I knew I’d have to deal with it.

Which I did. I replied, “I don’t know for sure. Can I get back to you on that?”

There. That oughta do it!

Four to-do’s oughta do it for now. I’ll let you know next month how things went. Hopefully, by that time I’ll have brushed all that sand off me and will be steadfastly facing the financial realities of sending these three kids to college!


Understanding College Costs