Choosing a Nearby College vs. One Far Away

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Colleges close to home or away?

Sept 2007

The time has come to apply to colleges. From what I hear, the kids generally want to move out and go to an out of area college. The problem is that I'm not so sure I want my daughter to go far away. She has her sights set on CAL, but it seems there is a lot of pressure at school from friends and even teachers, that it's not cool to stay close to home. What do think?

Does your daughter prefer going to a college close to home or to go away? If financial factors make it feasible, I think it should be your daughter's choice rather than anybody else's. I have met kids who wanted to go away, my daughter for example, and others who were interested in staying in town. While I surely miss my kid, I think that the independence is a good experience for her, and one that help her build confidence in herself and prepare her to be on her own. Interestingly enough when she was in high school she often talked about her desire to live in places other than the Bay Area, but now she has expressed an interest to coming back to Berkeley once she's out of school. From a different prospective: would you want your daughter to be in a college where she doesn't want to be if you have the possibility to send her where she wants? College takes adjustments, so it's best to have a kid enthusiastic about the institution in which she's enrolled. And the other UC are not that far from Berkeley either, for example it would take you 1 hr flight to LA to visit. gh

The college application process is truly barferoneous these days and part of the problem is the confusion caused by the wide variety of opinions and ideas about what you should do. I will have more to say about this later. I do think the various ideas that have been posted so far are good!

I am a professor at Cal and my daughter decided to go there. Actually it was the best of the affordable schools that she got in to, though if she really wanted to go somewhere else she had a choice among several fine UCs (I have absolutely NO influence on admissions, let's get that out of the way! and I get no break of any kind). She got in to some private schools and that was grand but way way too expensive. We did not qualify, at any public or private school, for financial aid or interest-free loans. We were offered loans at what I consider a high interest rate and we did not take them. We are unfortunately in a sandwich between being wealthy enough to pay our way to a private school, and ''poor'' enough to qualify for financial aid. The living expenses in the Bay Area, 177% of average, did not seem to impress the various schools we applied to. This does not mean that YOU will not get aid, so try. Most colleges say they are ''needs blind,'' or ''practically needs blind.''

The community college option with a two-year transfer is a good one--really saves money and there are some really good teachers in small classes in the community colleges.

To get back to your question, not only is my daughter close to home, but she is at my place of work, admittedly with 30,000+ other people. So far, this works for us. She lives in the dorms and I stay out of her business. She comes home when she wants to, and I love to see her. We love to see each other once in a while for lunch or snack on campus. I could not be happier, but I have to watch myself. I have to NOT GET INTO HER STUFF. That is hard, as I want her to do well in school and she has had some periods of doubt and unhappiness. She has questioned her choice because it is such a ''BIG' place, but at the same time has wonderful opportunities to do things. She is also outrageously happy with what she is doing at times, and is very involved in extracurricular activities and has lots of friends. So I think she is at the normal for her general personality. She's a homebody and a bit moody.

Do what seems right for you and your child, and accept that once they are off to school, they are adults and should be given privacy with responsibility. I do ask my daughter to prepare a budget for me every semester and I would do that wherever she went.

My second daughter, applying for college right now, is adamant that she wants to go AWAY for college. It is pretty clear in this case what her preferences are and I think we accept that. But I think 100 miles is AWAY, and the east coast means a lot of flight delays. We will see where she gets in and at what price. I really wanted to get AWAY and found that 100 miles was perfect for me. I guess what I am trying to say is that the away vs. close problem pales compared to where the kid gets in and at what price.

I think we need to transmit some crucial info to our kids as soon as possible, and this gets lost in our worries about college this or college that:

1. live within your means (bankrupting yourself for some big name school is not setting a good example).
2. don't borrow money. Start a car fund now. No weird mortgages.
3. save money and live on a budget. Understand compound interest. (and you can start with 10.00 saved by getting a book used, etc.)
4. you are not entitled to anything, you have to earn it.
5. learn about investing your savings.

As to the application process, it is well known that it is the major your kid picks is more important than the college. I know that the kid who is going to Cal Poly in engineering is going to do very well financially compared to the kid who goes to Stanford in drama (and don't get angry with me if drama is your kid's thing--that is just the way it is and who knows they could get lucky but it will be harder with a lot of debt....). What if they went to Cal in engineering and the competition was so fierce they changed majors, while at Cal Poly they are supported and in a more reasonable peer environment? At Cal, to do engineering you have to be in a different college so your choices for alternative majors require a transfer--and if you are in another major and want to transfer into engineering it is very difficult. Perhaps a school that made it easier to choose would be more reasonable. Keep these things in mind. I don't think it is reasonable for a high school senior to know exactly what they want to do. So find a school that has a lot of choices, unless your kid is very focused (and I know one of those this year who has already changed her mind, after 4 weeks of freshman year).

My greatest fear for my daughter is that at Cal, the sciences are so packed with highly competitive students that she may give up, while at a smaller school she might stick with it.

Now for the application process: what has happened???? It is such a drag. We did not take this nearly so seriously when I applied to college. You need to try to get good scores, good grades, and for some schools, good recommendations. AP classes, if your kid can do well in them, are good. Some evidence of public service (though not so much and so diverse that it looks contrived) is good. Faking things does not help your kid, who will wind up somewhere he or she does not belong. You need to help them find a school that is going to be right for them. So get some of those books on colleges, or go to spark college on the web, or do several of those things and have the kid look through them and see what is of interest. You will be able to get some idea of the likelihood of your kid getting in from the GPA and scores of students accepted. Look at some college websites. Try not to let all the ''noise'' about xy and z's perfect SAT scores get to you. Just focus on finding a place your kid likes, and put ''away or close'' way down the priority list, unless is it really a big deal for your daughter. Be frank with your kids about what you can afford, but don't let them stop them from applying to places, because you may get an offer that makes it affordable.

It is helpful if you have them take an SAT prep course, I think. My daughter took a week long prep course offered through her school. They need to get used to the test format.

I have used a consultant for 2 meetings per kid, just to reduce some of the tension that gets built up when parents try to do all the advising. The consultant made my daughter aware of where she was likely to get in and where she would not get in, and recommended some schools to her. Your kid should write her OWN essays, and proof read them a lot. You can help with proof reading, but lay off.

There is my 2 cents. local mom

To ''local mom'' who is a professor at Cal and took the time to write the extensive, thoughtful, and honest essay about the college application process and home-vs.-away issues-- You did an EXCELLENT job of putting everything into perspective and telling it like it is. For those of you who *read* her posting-- Listen to her! I speak from recent experience, having just dropped one daughter off at college in August and will be starting the whole thing again soon with my other daughter, who is a high school junior. another local mom