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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sending kids off to college : part three - where to go?

I should credit my nephew with these posts because they are a reflection of many of our current dining room table discussions.

One of our big topics is where to go, what college or university to choose.

Sending a kid off to school is not unlike that other big milestone, the first day of elementary school. It is one of those acute letting go moments where you as a parent are more aware than they are that this is life changing, that something is being let go that will never quite be recoverable.

It is hard and quite natural for parents to hope everyone will be nice, that the teacher will notice your shy child, or understand the sweet person under your busy one, that your baby will make friends.

You hope for a small caring school and small classes.

I think many of us revert to this when it is time to send them off to post-secondary education. Recruiters know this and the emphasis from the smaller schools on quality of student life, a place where everyone knows your name is big.

It has occurred to me however that what a young person seeking to find their unique place in the world needs is not always the same place as the soon to be ex pre-schooler, and that different environments offer different opportunities.

Here IMO are not good reasons for choosing a particular school:

1. Everyone in the family went there. Even more so that one or both parents had the "time of their lives" there. This is not a good reason on so many levels.

  • It goes without saying that this is about your kid and not about you. I know a young woman who went to the site of her dad's glory days as captain of the football team and didn't really like it at all. She felt he was taking over her experience.
  • Schools change too. Any honest academic will tell you that any department or faculty goes through cycles, they periodically decline and are rebuilt, and the great program you did may not be the same anymore. 
  • College life is different now, part-time work, debt, an uncertain employment future, make the experience far less carefree than it once was.
2. It is a nice small school in a small college town and therefore less dangerous, intimidating, or impersonal than a larger, or more urban school.
If this is your prime reason for pushing a certain institution think again. I once asked my students to name the region's famous "party schools" meaning more wild parties, drinking, drugs and missed classes. All of the schools they named were in the smaller "college towns." None were the big urban universities. When you think about it the reasons are obvious. In any smaller community if there is less to do it is easier to get into trouble, more pressure to conform to a certain stereotype, less room for the individual to be themselves or find like souls. Some are even culturally more like a big high school than a place to find yourself.

When you think of the news and the stories that periodically come out about drinking or drug related college scandals for instance where do they come from? My point exactly.

3. It is a big name school. Obviously getting into Harvard is a good thing but it really matters so much more at the graduate level than the undergrad. Many of the profs who give well-know institutions their reputation will never teach undergrad courses at all, or at least often and certainly only in the final years. A good solid undergrad with great marks is the sensible aim here.

Also, entirely my own view, here are things to consider when choosing a school:

1. An interesting program (see earlier posts) with good faculty. Look who the teachers are and what their qualifications are. Profs should have education from a variety of institutions (more than one degree from the same institution is often not a good sign) and locations.

2. A place your child would actually like to live in. Places are teachers too. An interesting environment is an education in itself. What will your child do outside of class? Hopefully there will be something more interesting than a string of drive-through restaurants and an on-campus beer bash.

3. Diversity. Whatever you child does in the future it will involve living and working in an increasingly global environment. Your sorority sisters might be a fine part of your life but going forward being comfortable with folks who do not come from where you did is like gold. When I was 16 my family moved from a small town in Manitoba to Montreal and I did my first degree there. I learned so much about life, other people, other cultures there. I have benefitted from that experience the rest of my life. And you have to experience it first hand. Knowing that that girl in the hijab has a great sense of humour or seeing someone else get through school juggling three jobs may is part of a real education. One thing education should do is broaden a person's comfort zone, it just makes the rest of life easier.

In short you want your child to find a place where there is room to be themselves. Variety is so important. In range of programs, student population. You don't want your child to just to find themselves but find other people like themselves, fellow travellers with interests, if not history, in common. Look for a place where there is room to be different, because finding your uniqueness is what this period of life is about.

Off I go now to my current students.

A little more sewing and then over the weekend life skills every first year student should have.


JuliaRu said...

Thank you so much for your thoughts on this topic. I have a daughter entering 10th grade this year, and we are just starting to think about all of this.

kathysews said...

We have successfully launched 3, and are struggling with our 21 year old son who lasted 1 1/2 years at college and is now back at home, has done some local community college and washed dishes at a local artisan pizza place and wants to go to culinary school. Your posts have helped me think differently about the whole thing. Thank you so much.

Lynn Barnes said...

I went to the place that offered me the most money to go there. It was a v. small, liberal arts school in my state, far away from any population centers; but filled with students from all over the world. My daughter chose to go to a state university that offers the best program on the East coast for her chosen major (even though it is in our home town and she didn't get to move far away from her horrible, horrible parents, lol). Each of us ended up happily engaged in intellectual and social pursuits. "Not every college/university is a good match for every student" is an axiom that bears constant repetition.

Gail said...

Your post makes me realise how different our education system is Australia. Here where universities are largely government funded, getting into a sandstone university or a best of breed university does count - at both undergraduate and post graduate. Most Australian universities focus only on the ATAR (think SAT) - You don't place at a sandstone under 90 out of a possible 99.95 for most courses.

badmomgoodmom said...

> You don't want your child to just to find themselves but find other people like themselves, fellow travellers with interests, if not history, in common.

I would add that, you want to meet people unlike yourself, and still learn to see the common humanity you share.