Tag Archives: college

Thinking of taking a gap year? Here are a few things you should do in that time.


Malia Obama, oldest daughter of President Barack Obama, is in her senior year of high school, and she has been accepted to attend Harvard University as her college of choice. However, before the first daughter attends her very first college class, she will be taking a year off—otherwise known as a “gap year.”

Big in Europe and Australia, and just now catching on in the US, a gap year is when students decide to delay their entry to college to either catch their breath after high school, or to gather some life or work experiences before embarking on their college career.

For Malia, the decision to take a gap year makes sense. Her father is in his last year of presidency, and there will be a lot of changes as the family adjusts to life after the White House. So, it doesn’t really seem like a big surprise that she isn’t jumping right into college after she graduates from high school.

For me, however, a gap year was not my parents’ favorite decision that I made. I wanted to move out with my boyfriend and begin working full-time right away. They wanted me to go away to college and pursue the classes I need toward the writing or teaching career I had often talked about.

In the end, I won out. I moved out the day after high school, increased my hours at work, and gained some real life experience. A year later, and I still wasn’t going to college. More than that, we were broke, and had accidentally started a family. Whoops.

My education took an alternative turn from the traditional route of college. I was lucky in that my experiences still led me to where I wanted to be in life. But because of the hardships I also faced from this life decision, I don’t heartily recommend taking a gap year.

Finally, my daughter—the one we started our family with—is graduating from high school this year. I’m proud to say that she’s not taking a gap year, as she will be starting classes at Sonoma State University in the fall.

With all that said, I still recognize that there are many students who are disciplined enough to take a year off after high school, and still sign up for college courses a year later. If that is your choice (or your child’s choice), here are 10 things you can do in that break between high school and college.

1. Travel
Trust me when I say this, there will never be a more perfect time for you to journey someplace new and live out of a suitcase. Later on, you will have a career, a family, obligations, responsibilities…. There will be so many things that will chain you where you are, making it difficult to just get up and go. Take a road trip to a new state. Or grab your passport and get on a plane. Peruse Groupon or Travelocity for deals, or split the tab with a few good friends.

2. Get a job….and save!
Work experience is worth its weight in gold. Future employers want to know about your past jobs, and they want to know you’ll be a good employee. This is a great time to pad your resume with a few small-time jobs, and even work your way up the ladder. Plus, a portion of that money can go toward next year’s college tuition, saving you money in the long run.

3. Join the Peace Corps
This is an opportunity for you to do something great for mankind, and to also see the world in the least expensive way possible. There is an application process and a few requirements involved, but if you’re approved, you will find yourself in a new part of the world, making new friends, and aiding others who are relying on your help.

4. Cross a few things off your bucket list
I know you have one. Perhaps it’s seeing the Grand Canyon. Maybe it’s running a marathon. Whatever it is, this is a great time for you to create a few memories, do all the things you’ve always wanted to do, and give you a few new stories you’ll tell your grandkids one day.

5. Hike the PCT.
You know, like Cheryl Strayed did (and told about in her memoir, “Wild”). Or just do a week-long backpacking trip like my friend, Inga Aksamit, did (and told about in her own memoir, “Highs and Lows on the John Muir Trail“).  Make sure you have a pair of sturdy shoes!

6. Learn something new
Take a sail-boating class. Learn how to bone a fish. Discover how tie every knot there is. Learn how to sew your own outfit, or how to knit a scarf. Practice putting up a tent on your own, and then how to tear it down. Take a dance class, a yoga class, a jujitsu class, or a singing class. Learn how to ride a horse. Learn how to do a back flip. Learn to speak a new language. Take all the fun classes you can now. The possibilities are endless.

7. Write a book
You know you have one in you. Might as well use this time to jot it down. Who knows? It could become the next bestseller.

8. Learn some life skills
You know good ol’ Mom and Dad? They actually have a few tricks up their sleeve. They can balance a checkbook in the blink of an eye. They can whip up a meal for five in 30 minutes. They can change the oil on the car, or switch out the windshield wipers. They can budget their finances with a few bucks leftover. Use this next year to learn everything you can from these wise people you call parents.

9. Do nice things for others
If you love animals, the local animal shelter would probably love your help. Enjoy farm work? See if any of the local farms need a hand. Have a neighbor with an overgrown lawn? Grab your dad’s lawnmower and mow their lawn. During this next year, look for ways you can add brightness to someone else’s life through random kind gestures.

10. Gain some perspective
What are your goals in life? What do you wish to accomplish by the time you’re 25, 30, 40 and more? What kind of career will make you happy? What are the values you wish to always take with you, and what are the bad habits you hope to shed? Use this next year to become clear on what you wish for your life, and to start mapping out your plan to make that happen!

What would you add to a gap year list? Did you take a gap year? What was your experience like?

Parenting in the college years

So they've graduated. Now what?

Our family is getting closer to the college years. My kids still have a little ways to go, being in 5th and 8th grades. But Mr. W’s son is staring down the barrel having just entered his junior year of high school. And while we’re all relatively calm about this reality, the stress of this is surfacing ever so slightly every day we creep towards mailing off the college and scholarship applications.

Of interest, I came across an article on a new book for parents of kids in college this weekend. Appropriately enough, it’s called “Don’t Tell Me What to Do, Just Send Money“, by Helen E. Johnson and Christine Schelhas-Miller. And while I haven’t read the book, I can already tell it’s one I should be picking up.

“As a faculty member, parents call me when their children are dissatisfied with grades, and it’s become all too common to find parents editing students’ papers,” said Christine Schelhas-Miller, co-author of the book. “The risk is having children who graduate without the skills to make decisions, solve problems and take responsibility for their own lives.”

Basically, this book is the how-to regarding cutting the apron strings – a guide for encouraging your kids to not depend on mommy and daddy in the years they should be exercising their freedom. It’s how to NOT call them every day. It’s how to keep from knowing all the trouble they’re getting into on their own. And it’s how to NOT come to their rescue when they’ve run out of money, their laundry’s piling up, they aren’t sleeping well, and they’re behind on their studies. Basically, by not helping them, you are actually HELPING them. And you’re ensuring that your kids won’t be included in the boomerang statistic because they won’t be running back home when things get tight. Instead, they’ll learn by default how to take care of themselves and become a responsible adult in society.

A few tips for parents of college-age students, as suggested by the book:

– Start detaching from kids in their sophomore year of high school. Let them take the lead in things like their college application, getting a job, doing their own laundry, etc. Ease them into becoming more independent so it’s not such a shock three years later.

– Understand the needs of a “Stress Dump”. You can listen. You can let them get it out. But you are not obligated to save them from their troubles. Sometimes ‘pain’ is necessary. And sometimes doing nothing is exactly what you’re supposed to be doing to help them. Of course, suggestions like “talk to your professor” or questions about what they’re hoping to accomplish can also help. But don’t be afraid to let them figure it out on their own too.

Have you survived your child’s college years? Or are you just getting started? What would be your advice to parents about to enter the college years with their child?

What every teen needs to know

By the time our kids reach their teenager years, we can see the end in sight.  Of course we’ll be jumping for joy sad when they take that next step of independence to find a place of their own or move away to college.  But let’s face it, who wants to still be raising their children when they’re 35?  To ensure this doesn’t happen, there are some very basic skills that every teenager should know. If I’ve missed any, be sure to add them in the comments.

How to boil water
…as well as other means of cooking.  If you’re not there to make your teen a sandwich, will they starve?  If you haven’t already, start teaching your child the fundamentals of making a meal, staples they should always have on hand, using food before it spoils, grocery shopping so that there’s still food on Friday when shopping is done on Sunday…  They should also know how to work a microwave, a stove, and an oven without burning the house down.  And they should be aware of how to read labels and make healthy choices to avoid the Freshman 15, and that in the long run, eating out costs much more than making food at home.

How to save a buck
Raise your hand if you really hope to be your kid’s ATM for life.  Yeah, that’s what I thought.  Then this skill might be the most important one you can teach them – how to handle their money.  Your teen should know how to create a budget and stick to it – putting money aside for bills to be paid on time before any money is spent on fun.  And money for fun should be included in that budget as well.  Help them open a checking account of their own and teach them how to keep it balanced, how to use the ATM machine, and that the balance the bank says they have is rarely ever the real balance.  Have them apply for a credit card, but stress how important it is to use it for necessities and not to furnish their whole apartment – and the importance of paying it off on time to build good credit.  They should also know how to save for things they want, put money aside for emergencies, give to charity, and how to get the best deal. 

How to get dressed
Ok, they are well past the time of needing you to pick out their clothes and tie their shoes – hopefully (if not, you have quite a bit of catching up to do).  But they will need to learn how to wash their clothes regularly so that they actually have something to wear.  And no, buying new clothes is not an alternative way to do laundry.  Teens will need to learn about when to use the Hot Cycle, and when to wash it in Cold.  And to ensure their whites don’t turn pink or their lights become dingy, they can use a lesson in separating colors as well.  Other important skills are how to sew a button or mend a rip, how to iron, how to fold and put away their clothes, how to treat stains, the importance of reading clothing labels, how to hand wash, and even how to best pack a suitcase (for all those trips back home to, ahem, do their laundry).

How to have respect…
…for everyone, but particularly for their housemates.  Sure, they may be used to leaving their dishes around, a clothing trail from the door to their room, and the toilet paper roll empty when they’re done doing their business.  And why shouldn’t they when MOM is there to pick up after them?  But Mom’s not at college, and I guarantee their housemates aren’t going to be too keen on seeing Jr’s dishes left in the sink.  A friend of mine told me of the time that he left his dishes in the sink one too many times, and finally his roommate did clear them out – by dumping them in his bed.  So for your child’s sake, and for their roommate, teach them how to do their own dishes, how to keep the noise levels down, common courtesy when it comes to guests in the room, and leaving OPP (other people’s property) alone as well as having boundaries in place for their own property. 

How to be organized
If your teen would like to flunk out in the first semester, the best bet would be to skip keeping a calendar and to lose every piece of paper or information that comes their way.  For everyone else, a calendar is essential.  If they have a smart phone, this is the most convenient place to keep it since they are likely attached to this particular piece of technology at all times.  Get them in the habit of putting everything in their calendar and referring to it regularly.  Another good habit for teens to get into before college is to create a filing system to hold all their assignment needs, bills, and any important document they may need to refer to later.  Not sure?  Place it in the filing system just in case.

How to…
…deal when sick, what to do or who to call if there’s an emergency (and have those numbers programmed in their phone), how to lock the front door behind them, how to fill their gas tank, how to understand their health or car insurance…and how to understand the many risks that are going to be in front of them. 

College is, for many teens, their first real experience away from parents.  This means that it’s their first brush with responsibility.  It also means it’s their first time without someone there to say no.  Now would be a good time to admit some of the stupid things you have done as a teen, anxiety you may have felt about being away for the first time, struggles you went through with a college schedule, and even the great parts about college life.  Sharing your good and bad experiences will help you be able to connect with your teen on a deeper level, and maybe even help them avoid some of the hard parts.  Of course, in the end they’re the ones who get to make the final decision.  And some of their decisions might not be the best despite your most valiant of efforts to steer them on a certain path.  And that’s when you also need to make it clear that no matter what, you’re there for them if they need it.

The high cost of education

In my family, it’s not a matter of “if” my kids go to college; it’s a matter of “when”. I have never allowed the possibility of my children NOT going to college into my vocabulary, intent on making sure that their future plans include college in the equation. And my daughter, at only 12, has decided that San Diego State College is where she plans to go for college. It’s a breath of relief, as there are plenty of great colleges out there that will cost more than the estimated $15,000 +/- a year it will cost for her to attend that school – most likely more, with the way college costs are rapidly rising. Her decision, I admit, has been swayed by the fact that her aunt lives in San Diego, a town we have grown to love during our annual visits there. And her hopes are to be able to bunk at my sister’s house while she studies for her future, not only a fun idea for both her aunt and her, but also as a way to keep costs down.

With several other universities costing upwards of $40K per year, it’s a wonder how many families can survive the college years, especially if they have more than one child who will be attending college at the same time. But even the “low” cost of my daughter’s 1st choice college seems daunting. You better believe that when college time comes close, DQ and I will be researching every available grant and scholarship there is to help relieve some of the costs for her to attend. The final amount, unfortunately, will lay on her shoulders – most likely in student loans. It’s not a responsibility I wish upon her, and if I could pay the full cost of her tuition I would in a heartbeat. But her brother will be entering college three years after she does, creating another search for grants, scholarships, and acceptable loans. And reality has dictated that it just doesn’t seem possible for my income to cover college costs for two kids over a combined total of 8 years or more.

And now there are reports of college costs skyrocketing. College tuition to the average 4 year school has recently risen 7.9%. And by the time many of our kids are entering the phase of searching out colleges, that number will more likely than not be even higher. To compensate, many families are taking advantage of the numerous avenues for federal aid out there, such as the Pell Grant – a grant that was given to 7.7 million students last year alone.

But alarmingly, many of these students that have completed college are still not guaranteed a well-paying job. “When you look at all college degrees, there are more than 317,000 over-educated Americans serving us our meals, more than 80,000 shaking our martinis and some 62,000 mowing our lawns.” Lauren Kelly, AlterNet.com. The sad truth is, many college graduates (17 million of them and counting, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) will not be entering the workforce any more secure than those without a college degree. They are just as fragile as the rest of us looking for work, and could still end up waiting tables or cleaning our schools – even with a PhD under their belt.  This is not only dismaying regarding the reason behind going to college, it also makes it really difficult for those job-challenged students to pay $500 or more a month after they graduate in efforts to pay back student loans they have taken out.

But still, I want my kids to go to college. Call me naïve, but I believe in the power of higher education. And I want to believe that my kids will have a chance of making a life for themselves so much easier if they go to college. And so I feed talks of college into their dreams, littering our conversations about the future with things like “when you go to college”, or “this is what you will need to study in college to make your dream job come true”. And all the while, I am praying that my inability to pay for their college out of pocket will not get in the way of making that happen.

However, I’m not alone in this decision about how my children’s college will be paid for, though some parents have come to this decision through intention, raither than as a result of economics. Sally Herigstad wrote an article for Money Central on MSN.com, stating the reasons why she and her husband are NOT saving for their children’s college, including reasoning that saving for her retirement is more important since she can’t get a loan for that necessary financial obligation but her child can for college, and the fact that she believes her child’s education falls on their shoulders alone. And, as Claire Bradley stated in an article on Forbes.com, choosing your child’s college tuitions over your own retirement is risky for not just you, but for your child too. “Too often, parents put their children’s college expenses above saving for retirement–a costly mistake. The best way to ensure your child’s financial security is to make sure your retirement is taken care of, so you’re not a financial burden.”

Has your family given thought to how you will be handling college costs? Will you be paying for your child to attend, or will you be relying on your child to take out loans and pay for it themselves?