The minute you get engaged you hear, “Congrats! When’s the wedding?” And the minute someone finds out you have a high school junior or senior you get, “Where are they thinking of going to college?”
Both are natural questions. Honestly, I ask everyone them too, because I love to talk weddings and I’m curious where friends are sending their kids. But only recently, with a few good friends planning weddings while my high school junior receives a barrage of college mail, did I piece together the mild anxiety I feel about being the parent to a college hopeful. Helping him plan college applications is giving me wedding-planning PTSD.
You tell yourself you won’t be crazy. Then you act crazy.
Every bride thinks she’ll be chill and every mom thinks she won’t get insane about the college process. Ahahaha the number of times I’ve advised friends, “Don’t let your child apply to more than ten schools!” Well, there are 15 and counting on my son’s current list. I hear myself going from saying, “I can’t worry about it” to “OMG I am so stressed out.” I’ve hired a college guide, and it’s a little like having a wedding planner. When he presented me with a list of colleges he thought my son could get into, I had the nerve to counter with other ones. Some of my emails to him are... rants. Not gonna lie. I think I am paying him to accept my angst.
You have to start a year out.
There was a moment in January when my phone served up a memory: Me on a college tour with my firstborn. My first feeling was not nostalgia but pure panic. I am so behind with kid #2! He has seen exactly one college. I opened the computer and began to search for college tours we could do over spring break. What was I thinking, waiting until spring to see colleges when he has to apply this November? I had flashbacks to trying to nail down a Fall wedding venue before Valentine’s Day.
Everyone has an opinion.
My partner and I eloped. Some people told me I would regret it. I never have. Similarly, when I said my firstborn was looking at big universities, people didn’t hesitate to say we really should also consider small liberal arts colleges. Why? Because it’s the exact opposite of what I just told you we want? With my son, when I’m pressed into naming a few colleges, I get, “Gah, I hope he likes snow if he goes there” or “Oh, I had a nephew go there, he hated it.” Thanks!
So how’s it going?
This is literally what I ask every bride-to-be. It’s the question I fielded when planning the party we held to celebrate our marriage. I liked sharing details of the reception, but opening up about them also allowed for more opinions and my own second-guessing. It’s similar with college. Mentioning anything, even something as innocuous as, “We’re waiting to hear,” invites more questions (“When do you expect to hear?”) and makes your head spin.
You’ll never have enough money and at some point need to be realistic.
You can spend an absolute fortune on a wedding. At some point you just pump the brakes. (For me it was with the wedding favors. We could either have flowers or favors at the reception and I went with flowers.) With college, some families can pay, some parents pay to cheat (Aunt Becky), but in the end, normal people have to spend as little as they can. No one should empty a retirement account to put a kid through college.
Ultimately, this is not even the important part.
A wedding is not a marriage, it’s just the kickoff. And where you kid goes to college is not their career or their life. Whatever they do afterward, whether it’s what everyone expects or a left turn into adventure, that’s the real story and the part there’s no planning for. I’ll keep telling that to myself while I log on and schedule my son for the SAT.