college sweatshirtThankfully we are now a few weeks past May 1st College Decision Day, and I can honestly say I am happy we survived that experience. As this was our first time through the college decision making process with our kids, I have to admit, it was an emotional roller coaster I hadn’t prepared well for. There were feelings of elation and smiles, disappointment and tears. And not perhaps exactly the emotions associated with things as I had anticipated. When your child doesn’t get into said college of their choice that is one thing. When you child does get into said colleges AND earns scholarship money but it just isn’t enough to cover the astronomic costs that are today’s college prices even with a substantial family contribution, and potentially working through college and it still isn’t enough, of course there will be disappointment. Frankly, it was incredibly frustrating. My husband and I finally understood that our college system has gotten out of control and that means kids (or their parents as is the case now) have to hawk their retirement or borrow unrealistic sums of money to finance a college education.

Without a doubt, it was an emotional month, but the good news is that now a few weeks later, all feels settled. Our daughter is happy with the school she will be attending.  Frankly, we believe that perhaps in some ways it might even be a better fit for her than the schools she had her heart set on that was out of reach strictly due to the astronomical annual tuition costs and fees.

What we did find out through this process, however, is that all schools and their financial aid offices are not the same. When the first acceptance and financial packages arrived at the beginning of this process, I called said financial aid office at one of the desirable schools. When inquiring out of curiosity how other families finance their school, the response I got was, “some borrow, grandparents donate or there is a trust fund.” The answer was given in such a distasteful way that it was shocking. It was at this time that I was told what our family contribution was as well, which was also in our case completely incomprehensible to us. Since this was the first time we had truly realized the disconnect between the schools and the potential families, I asked more questions which weren’t met with much empathy but rather a glibness of just “how things are these days”. I felt angry and quite disappointed that there wasn’t more kindness and consideration in the comments that were being thrown around. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when speaking with a financial aid officer at another school, — by then we had taken on the motto, “leave no stone unturned” in our inquiry of all possibilities. I received acknowledgement of this complicated process and understanding that this is not always an easy experience and definitely emotional. This financial aid officer, with compassion and concern, offered at least a further look into our individual situation. No guarantees but certainly not a complete and outright dismissal.

The feelings we have now about each of these schools, I have to admit, was effected by those experiences and conversations with the personnel of those financial aid offices.

I get that these offices are crazy busy during this time of the year. But so are tax offices during tax season and I wouldn’t accept that kind of customer service from an accountant. I realize I must also have understanding for what the person I spoke to must have been dealing with as well (other angry or maybe rude parents) BUT if you are in the business of customer service you better be able to relate to every customer with the kindness you would expect to receive in that very same situation. If you can’t, you might want to learn how quickly. Moving forward, I will not feel the same about that first school having that glib of an interaction about something so crucial to us at that time. The second school, however, felt as if they got this process and knew how to handle the parental emotional roller coaster well.

What have your experiences been like through your own college financial aid process?

Wishing other parents an enjoyable and safe graduation season and ease into the next part of this parenting adventure.