This is the time of nail gripping anxiety among high school seniors across the US and other countries – because this is when the ‘thick’ and thin’ envelopes go out to the students, letting them know if they have gained admission into the colleges of their choice (a thick envelope contains the admission forms etc and is therefore ‘thicker’ than a rejection letter that contains only a ‘thin’ letter of rejection). And this is also a time of anxiety for the parents as well – how much financial aid is my child going to receive? Increasingly, financial aid is becoming more and more difficult to obtain, leaving parents with the dilemma – the college is just what our child wants and is also a great fit, but will we have to take out a loan to fund his/her under-graduation education?
Having gone through the experience a couple of years ago, and listening to my friends now, I find that most of us went through the same agonizing dilemma. Personally, I don’t think a child of 18 is mature or wise enough to understand the consequences of taking out a large loan at this age. And with student loans being the only loans that aren’t dischargeable under normal bankruptcy proceedings, it is a lifelong ‘albatross around the neck’ if you will, so it is good to think this decision through very carefully. At the same time, colleges are getting increasingly stingy with financial aid. Add to the fact that most of us middle-class parents are figuratively caught in the middle – not rich enough to pay the fees unthinkingly, yet not poor enough to qualify for federal aid. A kid I know has got into MIT, but with no aid forthcoming, she will have to go to the state school instead. Her parents, who are not all that well off, are debating the pros and cons of taking a loan. As Asian-Americans, we also place very high value and education, and understand very well the value of a good degree in a good college – after all, our ‘good’ education is what has brought us to where we are now. So is it worth taking out a loan to get into a ‘good’ college?
Finding out what is a ‘good fit’ for your child is very important, yet very difficult. What are the parameters of a good fit? Academics? Composition of student body? Size of school? Rigorous curriculum vs party school with Greek life? (For kids coming from India and other foreign countries, these are completely alien ideas to even understand, let along form an opinion about). There are very few kids who know exactly who they are and what they want to do in life – most 18-year-olds are still trying out various persona, still trying to figure out what they want to do, and what they want to study. Many Americans take college tours during the senior year of school, but there are a large number who cannot afford to make trips and check out the school. And anyway, how much about the college will you really learn during a three- to four-hour sales-pitch tour?