Sunday Reflections: College Dreams Denied and the Heartache of Being a High School Senior
Being a parent is full of hard days where you have to disappoint these children that you love. Yesterday was one of those days for me when I had to tell Riley that we couldn’t afford to send her to the college program of her dreams because she didn’t get enough financial aid and we could not make up the difference. And then we got to watch her cry as her body vibrated with the movement of sorrow and tears the size of boulders cascaded down her cheeks. And I felt like a failure for disappointing her. And I worried about what the future would hold for her.
Many of you know that Riley wants very much to be a forensic scientist and she was accepted into two schools that offered this, but neither school gave us enough financial aid that we can make it work. She is 10th in her class of over 400 students but even that has not proven enough. I have watched her sweat, cry and stress for four years to keep herself in this high of an academic position and it has all been for naught.
The last year and a half of trying to navigate the college crash course has been extremely difficult, and I have a masters of library science. I have dedicated my life to learning how to research and plan and organize and I am here to tell you, this process has been difficult for me, for her, for us. I can’t imagine what it is like for teens who don’t have a librarian mom on their side or who is a first time college student in their family.
We made checklists and spreadsheets and kept file folders. We researched and applied for scholarships. We met all the deadlines. We jumped through all the hoops. And we have nothing but tears to show for it.
We are privileged and blessed and we know it, but we also make just enough money to be doing okay on the day to day but not enough money to actually be able to afford college and not too little money to qualify for good financial aid. College in this country is unaffordable for a vast number of its citizens and yet quality of life can be impacted by the ability to attend college.
And I understand that college is not for everyone and we need people in other occupations and trades. But we also need good, quality people in occupations that require a college degree and we are losing so many of those people because they simply can’t afford to go to college. I think often of all the research that will be lost, all the innovation we’ll never have, and all the lives that won’t be saved because we didn’t have the best and brightest because they couldn’t navigate the college system or pay to be a part of it. And I would remiss if I didn’t point out that a lot of this is in fact tied in with systemic racism, sexism and classicism in our country.
I have no idea what I do now as a parent. How I help her navigate the heartache of lost dreams and opportunity. How I help her find a new dream and a new career that is attainable for her. How to help her swallow the bitter pill of disappointment. How I help her find hope once again in a world that seems hell bent on crushing hope as if it is a flower we do not want to see bloom so we keep stomping it with the boot of despair.
I am a 48 year old woman and I just paid off my college loans 4 months ago. Every moment of the last 20 years was hard. There were times we didn’t go to the doctor because we could not afford to do so. Our kids were in the daycare everyone knew was the worst in town because it was the only one we could afford. There were so many days where we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we waited for the next paycheck. So I am hesitant to encourage anyone, let alone this child that I love, to take out student loans. But the truth is we don’t qualify for that much. Both a blessing and a curse.
Although I have worked with teens for more than 20 years in our libraries, living the end of the high school years with a child of my own that I love with my whole heart and in the midst of a pandemic, I am here to tell you that we need the dynamic to change for these kids. College is unattainable and unaffordable, and the stress of trying to get into one and find a way to pay for it is doing untold damage.
Now I have to go and help my crying child find a plan b that will give her a livable life with a livable wage and some degree of life affirmation in a world that does not want to support its people or take care of one another. Just yesterday the vote for a $15 minimum wage failed. What kind of future will this generation have? I can tell you that they see it as being very bleak.
Anyhow, if you have any tips, tricks, leads, or ideas for me to help this kid that I love, I will take them.
Filed under: College
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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