We have been touring some colleges with Rob; we’ve been bringing William along, which is one of the advantages of being born second to parents who tend to procrastinate about new things.
So far, Paul has done two of the tours and I have done one. So far, Paul is better at this than I am: he doesn’t panic about driving to new places, he doesn’t panic about what the parking situation will be, he doesn’t panic about maybe being late. But I did okay the one time I did it. Oh, what did ROB think? I have no idea. So far Rob has been driving me crazy by being shruggy about everything. One of the most famous colleges of all time and you would be lottery-winner-style lucky to get to go here? It’s okay, he guesses.
I am also thrown by this because in many ways Rob and I have similar temperaments, but on this topic we are OPPOSITES. By 8th grade I had chosen my college. It was a MISTAKE, I now believe, and I wish I hadn’t been under the impression at the time that all secular colleges were roiling pits of drugs and sex and alcohol and partying—but I was INVOLVED and INTERESTED, is I guess what I’m trying to communicate. I did college-search programs. I looked up the results in a book. I compared the merits of one to the merits of another. I made sure each one was the PROTESTANT kind of Christian and not, say, Catholic. …Okay, in retrospect there were some downsides to my searching methods, and perhaps being a little shruggy is not the worst thing someone can do for their educational prospects.
Anyway, I have some financial questions. We toured one college that said that tuition was free if the family made less than $XX,000 per year. Let’s say the family makes about $3,000/year more than that, and it’s because one of the parents recently acquired a part-time job. Should that parent quit her job? Or does the college then say, “Yesssssss, you do make under that amount, but one of you could be working so…”? Or is it like, it’s free if you make less than $XX,000, but it’s not generally a firm cut-off, and making $3,000/year more doesn’t mean they expect you to pay $56,000/year more in tuition, but instead would expect you to pay $3,000/year more in tuition? I know you’re not going to know the specifics of the specific college, especially if I am not telling you the specific college, but this is okay because I’m not actually asking about only this college and am wondering more about IN GENERAL what people have found about college financing situations such as this one.
Secondly, this same college said the free-tuition dealio was for families with “average assets.” This made me start thinking about our assets. I think we have more assets than some people: we are aware we have five children, and so we have been socking away for college. Also, I had a small amount of money of my own, and I invested it in Apple when Apple was $20/share. But…we’d like to divide those assets among the five children, not send the first one to college with almost no loans and have nothing left for the other four. Does a college understand that? Or are my fears correct that they expect you to drain the accounts before they’ll consider anything financial-aid-related? I mean, that would kind of be fair: what if none of our other kids even WENT to college? But it seems like poor planning.
Also, I would like to vent some general crabbiness. We are living in a small house, which we bought taking into account just one income. The kitchen is from 1960, and it wasn’t a good design then either; we have duct-taped some modifications into place, including using an old changing table as a countertop. We don’t have a garage. We have furniture with stuffing coming out of it. We only just replaced the mattresses the two older kids were sleeping on, which were my brother’s when he was a child. Each year we sent our tax refunds off to the mortgage. We don’t go on expensive vacations. We are doing all these things because we want to be better able to afford things like braces and college. I am feeling crabby because although I could be completely wrong about this, it seems to me that if we’d bought more house than we could afford, and had the kitchen remodeled, and added a garage, and bought new furniture every time the old stuff got shabby, and spent our tax refunds on vacations and a hot tub, and went out to dinner every week, we would qualify for a lot more financial aid. I’m feeling as if we’re going to get punished for all these years of me pining for my friends’ houses/kitchens/garages/meals/vacations, while they qualify for all the need-based scholarships.
I don’t see how it can be any other way (do I really want colleges to demand itemized spending records and a household inventory?), and I don’t want to live a way I consider unwise for our circumstances just to get need-based scholarships for the kids, but I am feeling theoretically cranky about the theoretical possibility of it. I guess I like to picture us as the cut-off: that any financial aid we don’t get would go to the people under us, who can’t afford the mortgage on a small house with a shabby kitchen, who have to spend their tax refund on their car insurance and medical expenses, etc. And not to the people I consider above us, with their island vacations and beautiful large houses and dinners out. It feels wrong to even think this way, because in theory I am an “everyone spends their own money in their own way” person—but when I picture the theoretical outcome in this case (someone else gets the vacation, the large house, the dinners out AND the financial aid, while we have none of those things AND no financial aid), I get theoretically upset.