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Sunday Reflections: College Dreams Denied and the Heartache of Being a High School Senior

Being a parent is full of hard days where you have to disappoint these children that you love. Yesterday was one of those days for me when I had to tell Riley that we couldn’t afford to send her to the college program of her dreams because she didn’t get enough financial aid and we could not make up the difference. And then we got to watch her cry as her body vibrated with the movement of sorrow and tears the size of boulders cascaded down her cheeks. And I felt like a failure for disappointing her. And I worried about what the future would hold for her.

Riley’s dream was to go to the forensic science program at Ohio University in Athens

Many of you know that Riley wants very much to be a forensic scientist and she was accepted into two schools that offered this, but neither school gave us enough financial aid that we can make it work. She is 10th in her class of over 400 students but even that has not proven enough. I have watched her sweat, cry and stress for four years to keep herself in this high of an academic position and it has all been for naught.

The last year and a half of trying to navigate the college crash course has been extremely difficult, and I have a masters of library science. I have dedicated my life to learning how to research and plan and organize and I am here to tell you, this process has been difficult for me, for her, for us. I can’t imagine what it is like for teens who don’t have a librarian mom on their side or who is a first time college student in their family.

We made checklists and spreadsheets and kept file folders. We researched and applied for scholarships. We met all the deadlines. We jumped through all the hoops. And we have nothing but tears to show for it.

Riley getting her acceptance to Ohio University

We are privileged and blessed and we know it, but we also make just enough money to be doing okay on the day to day but not enough money to actually be able to afford college and not too little money to qualify for good financial aid. College in this country is unaffordable for a vast number of its citizens and yet quality of life can be impacted by the ability to attend college.

And I understand that college is not for everyone and we need people in other occupations and trades. But we also need good, quality people in occupations that require a college degree and we are losing so many of those people because they simply can’t afford to go to college. I think often of all the research that will be lost, all the innovation we’ll never have, and all the lives that won’t be saved because we didn’t have the best and brightest because they couldn’t navigate the college system or pay to be a part of it. And I would remiss if I didn’t point out that a lot of this is in fact tied in with systemic racism, sexism and classicism in our country.

I have no idea what I do now as a parent. How I help her navigate the heartache of lost dreams and opportunity. How I help her find a new dream and a new career that is attainable for her. How to help her swallow the bitter pill of disappointment. How I help her find hope once again in a world that seems hell bent on crushing hope as if it is a flower we do not want to see bloom so we keep stomping it with the boot of despair.

I am a 48 year old woman and I just paid off my college loans 4 months ago. Every moment of the last 20 years was hard. There were times we didn’t go to the doctor because we could not afford to do so. Our kids were in the daycare everyone knew was the worst in town because it was the only one we could afford. There were so many days where we ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while we waited for the next paycheck. So I am hesitant to encourage anyone, let alone this child that I love, to take out student loans. But the truth is we don’t qualify for that much. Both a blessing and a curse.

Although I have worked with teens for more than 20 years in our libraries, living the end of the high school years with a child of my own that I love with my whole heart and in the midst of a pandemic, I am here to tell you that we need the dynamic to change for these kids. College is unattainable and unaffordable, and the stress of trying to get into one and find a way to pay for it is doing untold damage.

Now I have to go and help my crying child find a plan b that will give her a livable life with a livable wage and some degree of life affirmation in a world that does not want to support its people or take care of one another. Just yesterday the vote for a $15 minimum wage failed. What kind of future will this generation have? I can tell you that they see it as being very bleak.

Anyhow, if you have any tips, tricks, leads, or ideas for me to help this kid that I love, I will take them.


  1. Brian Leingang says

    Hello, I am sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation. I follow you on twitter and am a community college professor at Edison State Community College in Piqua, Ohio.

    We have a lot of students that transfer to four year schools. Ohio has what is called the Ohio Transfer Module where any student with an associate’s degree from any state can transfer all of those degree credits to any 4 year state school. In addition, most individual general education classes are part of the Transfer Assurance Guarantee. This means 4 year schools have to accept those general education credits.

    Tuition at community colleges is a lot less expensive. At my college, it’s under $200 a credit hour and a full year of tuition is around $5,000 for full time students. Plus, there are a lot of scholarships for community colleges. If she should save some money by starting at a community college and then transferring (OU even has a transfer scholarship for students with high GPAs, about $5,000).

    My recommendation is to speak with someone at OU’s forensic program and explain the situation, then ask which community colleges have transfer partnerships with OU. Many community colleges have developed agreements where CC students can follow a specific course of study that will be accepted by that four year college. The state is working on standardizing more of these, but right now it’s not standardized.

    I believe some community colleges have residence halls, too. Others can work with out of state students to find housing. It wouldn’t be the ideal college experience of living on campus for the first year, but it would be something. I would also think that by transferring in, she could establish residency and get in-state tuition.

    Do you have family or friends in Ohio? If she could live with/near them, that would make things easier, too.

    Many community colleges offer all of their general education courses online, too. So, she could stay home and take classes at an Ohio Community college and take advantage of the transfer option.

    If you want to speak with someone about the transfer option, I will happily set you up with one of my colleagues in student services to answer questions. They might even know the transfer liaison at OU. My college is close to Dayton, so we are on the other side of the state from OU, so I don’t have many contacts there.

    You and your daughter have some hard choices. Does she want the college experience of living in a dorm and being on campus from the start, or does the program and school name on the degree matter more?

    I am happy to connect you with anyone I can think of to help.

    Please feel free to send me an email. Or, you can DM on Twitter and we can speak in person.

    I hope this has been helpful.

    Good luck!


    • Christie says

      I second the community college route. It is a great way to save some money and get the general education out of the way, before you transfer to a university to take all the major-related courses. It was hard for me as a teen having to change my dreams many times and my heart breaks for Riley, but hopefully it will be a dream deferred and not something that she has to give up on completely.

  2. Aly Bowthorpe says

    My child was involved in student government / student leadership programs at the university and that helped her qualify for student perks/scholarships. This is one way she got through school with very little debt. She now has a Masters degree and no school loan payments.

  3. Nicole Cardiel says

    Have you talked to the admissions office about it? When my daughter was accepted to Ohio U, we talked to the admissions office and they offered us an additional scholarship to help with the cost. My daughter ended up choosing a different university in Ohio.

  4. Rachel Lachut says

    I’m sure y’all have looked at a lot of different forensic science and school options that are accredited, but I’d be remiss not to mention my alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, which has:
    *an excellent honors program (I went to several conferences for only the price of food and souvenirs),
    *free required textbooks (for all incoming freshmen this coming school year through a new program),
    *a fantastic writing center (that intentionally employs students from a diversity of majors and includes them in program development, research, and publications),
    *extended admission/scholarship application deadlines and *potentially* tuition discounts for out of state students (the website doesn’t clearly reflect the current application year. As a side note, my freshman year was my most expensive year as I became eligible for more scholarships beginning my sophomore year. Granted, I was in-state, but by the end of my time at EKU, I’d done 4 years of college and only had about $5,000 in student loan debt…and that was because I studied abroad 3 times.).

    I’m so sorry to hear that she’s not going to be able to go to the program of her dreams, but there are several options out there. Hopefully something comes through soon.

  5. I have a high school junior, and like you, I make enough to be okay, but do not have anything saved for college. I am so sorry this happened. Very little compares to watching your child strive and achieve and then realize it’s all a game and they are on the losing end.
    Just wanted to say again, I am so sorry.

  6. It’s probably better if she will study abroad where it could be cheaper. That’s what most foreigners do anyway.

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