There is one piece of my daughter’s college application process that is entirely mine, or rather, my responsibility to do with her.
Insert doom and gloom music here …
HINT: Anything left over from Halloween
including the blood curdling screams will work –
except that they’re too brief and not nearly scary enough!
It’s the FINANCIAL AID paperwork from H-E-L-L.
I confess to becoming completely and utterly stressed as we fill out these forms.
And yes, we do them together.
My reasoning: If she is old enough to go to college, then, she is old enough to understand family finances.
Filling out these forms together only helps her to understand how she is being evaluated for financial aid. And in the end, she is more likely to appreciate any award granted and any payment I am responsible for making.
I feel that she needs to know the process, to comprehend the questions, and to learn how to arrive at the answers.
If called in to a Financial Aid Office and asked for further explanations, I don’t want her to panic and shrug (as I once did 30-odd years ago with embarrassment). She’s too smart to be dumb. And I trust her to know our situation fully.
As I worry and fret over being in a situation that unexpectedly turned my financial preparations inside out, she is at my side providing the calm. And calm is what we need for the hours of focus that these forms demand.
The FAFSA is simple but only in comparison to its sister – the CSS Profile – which has, at last count, 244 questions about past, present and future finances. So much for the “personal” part of “personal finances” – there is no concealing the details that cannot properly explain the reality.
Together, we address every question and compile pages and pages of worksheets and spreadsheets to verify how we arrived at the figures requested. It’s an organized mess.
So while she writes her essays for admission, I write letters for the financial aid staff of every college she is applying to – letters that, I hope, provide explanations while asking for further consideration beyond the formulas. I read her essays; she reviews my letters.
And we both wait in our anxious states.
She wonders: Have I nailed the essays? Will they like my portfolio? Have I done enough? Am I good enough? Will I get in?
I wonder: Can I afford this? How can I balance her needs and her wishes against what is realistically possible?
And we wait.
I review the Parenting Rulebook, page 118, paragraph 3: Never, ever compare your anxieties to your child’s. We are in this process together – she and I – panicking in equal amounts for the same and different reasons.
I try to hug away her moodiness so that she can focus again. There are more college applications to complete; a high school senior year of classes and friends to experience; one last year of time together.
Soon enough we will know.
And soon enough, she will be on her way.
Endnote: I am a firm believer in sharing the truths when children are ready to learn. For years, I have gradually revealed finances to my girls – not in the abstract but in the reality. They first learned, for instance, what utilities were; then, that they cost money (and why); then, how I paid for them as we reviewed and unlocked the mysteries of the bills together; then, the pros and cons of different payment methods; and then, where that money came from on my end. By the time we reached the financial aid forms, finances weren't the great unknown for them, though some of the questions baffled us. These basics will provide groundwork for expecting, deciphering, and paying their own bills soon enough; how to manage their own savings; and how –and why – to create their own budgets. I have been trying to help them develop their financial backbone.
May you gradually give your own children the wisdom of all things financial and may they come to appreciate and respect you all the more.