By Susan Rupe and John Hilton
Cyril Tuohy’s 12-year-old daughter and her friends haven’t even graduated from middle school and they’re already tossing around the names of Ivy League colleges as casually as if they were ordering their favorite flavors of ice cream.
Cyril is terrified by this. He believes that 12-year-olds should not think about choosing a college at this stage of their lives, not to mention that he is freaked out over the prospect of paying for his daughter to attend an elite school.
We understand and respect Cyril’s feelings on this important family issue. But we disagree with some parts of this. Here are our stories:
My son and I emerged one summer day from one of the most beautiful buildings in Philadelphia, the museum at the University of Pennsylvania campus. After having spent a few hours browsing through ancient Egyptian artifacts and Native American cultural displays, my son looked around the Penn campus and proclaimed, “I want to go to school here someday.”
He was eight years old and had just completed Grade 2.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” I was thinking. But I didn’t discourage him. All I said was, “Well, if you want to go here someday, you need to make sure you study hard and get good grades in high school.”
And I thought that would be the last of it.
Fast forward 14 years and I was sitting in the stands at Franklin Field on the Penn Campus, shivering in the cold wind and holding back tears as the band played “Pomp and Circumstance.”
My son was walking into the stadium to receive his degree.
Attending Penn was his dream from a young age and he didn’t waver from it, taking advanced academic courses in high school and seeking out Penn alumni in our town from whom he could get advice on applying. We engaged a financial planner to help us with strategies to fund it. And he was eligible for a generous financial aid package that chopped off a major percentage of the tuition.
Cyril, I agree with you that your daughter needs to have some sort of plan for what she wants to do for her life before she can choose the location for where she wants this plan to play out. But sometimes when your kid has a dream, the best you can do is encourage and then stay out of the way and see what happens.
I only wish I had been thinking about college at 12 years old. Or at 13 years old. Heck, I could have waited until I was 16 and still caught my college train.
But it didn’t work out that way for me, Cyril, and it gives me a different perspective on your dilemma.
Nobody in my family had ever graduated college, which certainly changes what a 12-year-old views as realistic goals. I did well in school, but nobody pushed me and I had no real role models.
So I didn’t think about college as anything more than a pipe dream. I graduated in 1986 and went to work in a factory refurbishing New York City subway air conditioners. It was dirty work and I breathed in who knows what. Those were the days when workers smoked on the job.
After three long years of that, I was ready for higher education. But by that time, I was 21 thinking about plans I should have been pondering as young as 12. Where would I go? How would I pay for it? What would my major be?
Luckily, I landed a job at Amphenol in Endicott, N.Y. and they have a tuition reimbursement program. So I finally went to college, but I started out as low as you can go. I had to take high school-level algebra and English 101. No college credits there.
After two years part-time and one full-time, I transferred 44 credits to Syracuse University in 1992. I ended up taking classes for two-and-a-half semesters there, including one in London, so it was very satisfying.
But I was nearly 28 by the time I snatched that degree (in journalism and political science) from legendary Dean Dr. David M. Rubin.
I always wondered where I might have ended up had I gone the traditional route to college. Five years might not seem like much time, but in your 20s, it can be a very productive time.
So I think it’s great that daughter your has an eye on college at such a young age, Cyril. My advice is to look for ways to leverage her interest. Turn Yale’s $63,970 annual cost into a math game.
How many glasses of lemonade will she have to sell to pay for a semester?
If she can figure that out, you might have a math major on your hands.
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