Double Take: Teens, parents need early talk on college planning

Wes: College choices. Where to go? In or out of state? JUCO or four-year? Private or public? Lay out a year or head to campus in the fall? What about tech schools, beauty schools, etc.? It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of newly minted adults rolling through their final semester in high school. But now is the time for final decisions.

I’ve never seen late teens and young adults so interested in the age-old question: What do I really want to be when I grow up? That’s a great way to start deciding what to do in the fall. Kids don’t have to have it all figured out just yet, but spending some time on the issue right now can save a lot of wasted time later. Parents need to be careful with their opinions on career and college choice. Many a teen has gone along with a parent’s wishes, signed up for engineering or architecture or education, only to realize by junior year how much they really hate that kind of work. On the other hand, parents have good reason to urge teens toward degrees that can generate some revenue down the road. I strongly recommend high school seniors take a look at the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics occupational outlook handbook (www.bls.gov/oco). It lists literally everything you could imagine about every career you can imagine, especially employment predictions.

Families are also cautious about finance this year. For many, budget may be everything, especially if there are two or three teens coming up the ranks. So families need to plan for about six or eight fallback strategies.

In making final selections from a (hopefully long) list of possibilities, teens and families should emphasize the fit between student and school. I recommend Loren Pope’s “Colleges that Change Lives.” Even if you don’t choose one of her 40 top picks, the book helps kids start thinking about this issue.

Samantha: I’d like to start off my column this week by running the risk of being shunned by most of the city of Lawrence. I’m here to make the case that my peers should think twice about going to KU. Many go there because they think they can’t afford to go elsewhere. But let’s take a look at the numbers. According to the Web sites of Harvard University and the College Board:

One year KU tuition + room and board = $15,000 (Average debt at graduation is $20,000)

• One year Harvard tuition + room and board if your income is less than $60,000 = free (No debt at graduation)

• One year Harvard tuition + room and board if your income is $60,000-$180,000 = no more than 10 percent of income (Average debt at graduation is $11,000)

• I know what you’re thinking; not all students can attend Harvard. But there are more than 700 private colleges in the U.S. Public schools are making huge cuts, and that means less money to give out in financial aid. It also can mean that classes are eliminated, making it harder to complete a major and graduate in just four years. (Add another $15,000 to the bill.) Many private schools, on the other hand, are still receiving generous donations from alumni. It’s not impossible to send your teen out of state and stay on budget.

Private school or not, I’d like parents to rethink sending their children right up the hill to KU. Sure, it is a good college at a decent price. But there’s more to college than the academics. College is about developing beliefs and attitudes that extend beyond the influence of parents. How can teens grow into adults when they’re still bringing home heaping piles of laundry for Mom to take care of every weekend? Or when Dad is always just a 20-minute drive away from rescuing them?

Even the students who don’t come “home” for the weekend are still living in their hometown. They will automatically feel most comfortable with their high school friends and may limit opportunities to meet new friends and try new things. College is a great time to start understanding the diversity of people and situations we’ll all face later in life. Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is important for learning these lessons.

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Samantha Schwartz is a senior at Lawrence High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to doubletake@ljworld.com. All correspondence is strictly confidential.

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