Admissions

Advice for Daughter Ill-Suited for Faraway College

Question: What is the best advice to give a student who is dead set on going ‘as far away from home as possible’ knowing she doesn’t have the personality for that?

I’ve found from eons in college counseling that “Location” is the most difficult and emotionally charged of all of the college-selection issues … even more so (perhaps surprisingly) than money matters. So your question is a toughie and … like its companion situation (“I want to go to college where my boyfriend goes”) … parents are between a rock and a hard place. You can always say, “This is the wrong choice for you and we won’t spend our money on bad choices.” But, typically, this plan will backfire. You’ll get stuck with a sullen teen who may even torpedo her own college career just to spite you.

So instead, I suggest that you start by asking your daughter why she wants to go away, if you haven’t done so already. And, even if you have, try to revisit the topic as calmly as possible and in a serious sit-down environment during a time block you’ve scheduled for this purpose, when your daughter won’t be distracted by incoming texts or by the theme from The Walking Dead starting up in the next room. Try to bite your tongue and refute her responses only when you feel that they’re truly unreasonable. Last year, for instance, I worked with a young woman from New York City who told me that she needed to go to California for college because she was in a “long-term relationship” with someone there. Later I learned that “long-term” meant six months and that the love interest was an older man she’d “met” only on the Internet. Yikes! So there are indeed some truly terrible reasons, like this one, for choosing colleges far from home, but there are actually some good ones, too. My own son, who is 16, claims that he wants to go to college in a region where he might like to remain after graduation. He grew up in New England and insists that he wants a warmer climate for his adult life. (I don’t blame him!) So we are investigating southern and West Coast colleges. I would still prefer him to remain within a couple hours of home, but I understand his preference and will encourage him to create a college list that includes colleges in New England and also in balmier climes.


So unless your daughter’s reasons for leaving home seem truly unwise, you too should help her to find far-away schools that seem like good fits. For instance, if you think that your daughter shouldn’t be at a distant college because she’s shy about asking for help when she needs it or she’s disorganized when it comes to doing class assignments or she can’t even keep track of her wallet and keys, search with her to identify places with supportive communities, with strong advising systems, first-year seminar programs, and where the majority of students live on campus for four years.

If you worry that your daughter can’t even sleep across town at her best friend’s house without getting homesick, you can point that out to her … but gently … and ask her why she feels that a distant college won’t be a disaster. (She may surprise you and tell you that she aims to fight her phobias and realizes that being unable to run home at the first sign of a meltdown is exactly what she needs.)

But, at the same time, explain to your daughter that she will also need at least one “financial aid safety school” on her list … i.e., a place where she is not only sure to be accepted but also that you know you can afford, even if you don’t get the financial aid you expect, and this may end up being an nearby public institution. (And, if you don’t require financial aid, you can tweak this and explain that she needs a reasonably priced safety school where she will surely be admitted. Point out that, if she ends up at her last-choice college, you want it to be a lower-priced last choice, noting that you don’t need to spend a fortune on a place your daughter isn’t thrilled to attend.)

You should also point out that being admitted to a nearby college–even one where your daughter insists she will never enroll–is a good back-up plan for the future. For instance, if there were to be a family medical crisis (or any other type of family crisis), your daughter might suddenly want to transfer to a college closer to home. Yes, she can always do that, regardless of where she applies and is accepted straight from high school. But, even if she does enroll at the far-away college, it can facilitate the transfer to a closer school if she has already been accepted there.

So, my advice would be to support her dream to go far from home but, at the same time, insist that you will only back this plan if there are a couple closer colleges on the list, “just in case.” And this “just in case” will cover not only financial aid uncertainties and unlikely medical or personal traumas but it will also cover the possibility that your daughter’s bravado now, in November, may fade by April when she needs to make her final choice. You may even be able to open her eyes to nearby colleges that aren’t the Usual Suspects already on her radar screen.

I also suggest that you use the College Confidential discussion forum to draw on the collective wisdom of other parents who have already walked in your shoes. Post your questions on the Parents forum (http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/ ). If you’re not already a CC member, you can join in seconds … and it’s free.

You can also check out some of the many existing threads where the thorny “Location” issue is aired. Here are a few for starters:

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/98318-ever-popular-debate-going-far-away-home-college.html

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/1393988-my-parents-dont-think-i-am-responsible-enough-go-college-far-home.html#post14862414

http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/parents-forum/1214990-how-far-too-far-home.html?highlight=far+from+home

Finally, as you help your daughter seek distant colleges that you hope will be good fits, focus on places that you might like to visit. If she doesn’t have a specific locale in mind already, why not push San Francisco over Syracuse or Tampa over Tulsa?

When my own son was little, I didn’t balk at the thought of him expanding his horizons by attending college in a new part of the country. But now that he’s just a year away from application deadlines, I wake up at night and worry. So I keep reminding myself of a quotation that came on a card I received when he was born: “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.” But if he does go far away from his roots for college, I’ll get my own wings too … on Delta, Southwest, or U.S. Air!