Hands-on parenting and financial aid: you’re not done yet

parent and studentParenting is the act of slowly letting go.

When our children are very young, our parenting tends to be very hands-on and protective. We allow (and even encourage) them to make mistakes, but only within the realm of what we deem acceptable. Better to make small mistakes when they’re young and our loving arms are around them, we reason, than to make big mistakes alone when those mistakes could be devastating and life-altering.

As our children grow up, we tend to progressively relax our protective arms a bit and encourage them to become more and more independent. With that independence comes what we call “life experience,” a euphemism for mistakes which lead to learning. Our 6th grader who isn’t in front of the school at 3:00 when we arrive to pick him up might end up walking the half-mile home. Our 8th grader, who chooses not to complete last week’s science homework must accept the lower mid-semester grade. And our 10th grader who forgets to sign up for the first offering of the PSAT must realize that opportunities to practice for “the real thing” are slipping away.

In each of these scenarios, we know that forgetting or neglecting a responsibility is not life-altering for our child. Instead, we hope that it’s character-building, and we allow (and sometimes even welcome) it for the life lessons that it serves to promote. Next time, we reason, our child won’t make the same mistake because she will have learned her lesson. In making the parenting choice to allow our children to fail and to slip, we hope that we are adding to their maturity and responsibility, so that they won’t fail and slip as adults. And we are considered good parents for doing so.

Once our children are seniors in high school and are ready to apply to college, we tend to assume that they have learned many lessons about responsibility, and that they should be able to forge this road into adulthood alone. I propose, however, that this is precisely when our children need our protective parenting arms around them again, and this is a time when they can’t afford to make a mistake, because instead of a life experience that leads to more maturity and responsibility, a mistake now could shut the door on important opportunities for our children.

parents-guideI didn’t come to this conclusion easily, especially because I am a very “learn-your-lesson” parent. But when I stood back and looked at my kids’ very busy lives, I knew that I had to take an active – a helpfully active role – in this college application process. Unlike many of the the learning opportunities before this, the college application scenario is both daunting and unforgiving because it doesn’t come with easy second chances. Oh sure, we could wait a year and apply again next winter, but I know that my kids do want to attend college next year, so this isn’t a lesson that I’ll encourage them learn the hard way.

Here’s how I’ve decided to handle it: the kids choose which colleges they want to apply to and complete and submit those applications online. I am, of course, available for the sections of the applications which require my input, but they do the rest – essays, requesting transcripts, etc. The college application process itself is easy enough.

It’s the scholarship and financial aid maze that I have decided needs my active participation. For some reason, my kids have decided that they simply won’t qualify for any scholarships, and that the effort required to apply for them is not worth the anticipated dismal return. They couldn’t be more wrong, of course, as Monique stresses on her blog, Student Loan Information for Parents, one of my favorite sources for useful financial aid information. But I’m not willing to fight them on this one. Instead, I’ve simply told them what I’m willing to do to help them win scholarships:

  1. If they write the essays, I will do the “administrative tasks.” That is, I will register with FastWeband send them only applicable scholarships, those they have a shot at, so they can’t insist that there’s “no point.”
  2. I will offer a cash reward for any scholarships they win. In many cases, the financial rewards reaped by winning a scholarship make it possible to offer the student a percentage of any award in cash, while still coming out ahead!
  3. I will keep a calendar of all scholarship due dates and kindly remind them as the deadlines approach.
  4. I will complete the FAFSA with little or no input required from them.
  5. If they apply for X scholarships, we will cosign for necessary loans they might need in the future. If they don’t at least apply for those scholarships, then we also won’t cosign for the loans, making the interest rate on those loans far higher than if they had a cosigner.

Yes, this does appear as if I’ve gone back to 8th grade parenting, but I’ve decided that in the case of applying for college financial aid and scholarships, I’m just not willing to watch them stumble and fall. Not at this important crossroad. Not now.

Of course, they still might reject my offer to help. But that would be a deliberate decision that also tells me that they’re not serious about college right now – and that is a decision that of course they have every right to make.

By Carol

 

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