Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

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.

Have Some Senior Year Stress, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

So, you know how everyone is always saying that your senior year is the “easy” year? They lied. I thought my junior year was bad for my mental health, but I was not prepared for whatever this year is.

First of all, why did nobody teach me how to apply for college? There’s no “what you need for college applications” class that’s offered. There’s like 17 different forms I have to fill out for each college application and I know how to fill out maybe 2 of them. I didn’t know this was going to be a game of “I wonder if they’ll think I’m committing fraud right now.”

Also, my teachers have definitely acknowledged that I’m filling out college applications, but they still give me more things to do over the weekend. So, I’m supposed to write a persuasive essay, annotate a book, take a test, and fill out a college application all in one weekend. That’s not stressful at all. I am so glad that I have all the time I need to put all of my effort into the applications that will determine the course of my life.

While we’re on the topic of college applications, I want to know who decided to make these college websites have 14 different links for the same application. First, you have to fill out the general information about yourself. Then you have to go to another tab to fill out your self-reported academic record. Then you have to go to another tab to submit your essay. Then you have to go to another tab to fill out the form for your actual major. Finally, you think you’re done, but you’re wrong. Once you get admitted you have to go to yet another tab to say that you’ll be attending that college. And there’s still more because you have to figure out housing, tuition, meal plans, and course information.

So, in conclusion, I have no time to fill out all of these forms that I really don’t even know where to find or how to fill out. At this point I’m just waiting for the email that says “sorry, but we will not be accepting you to this college because you forget to fill out the form telling us when your dog’s birthday is.”

Thankfully, I do have access to people who can help me with this whole process, but there are kids who don’t. They don’t have anyone giving them the information they need to write a good essay or telling them how to get a formal transcript. We need to help those who don’t have all of these resources, so when they’re ready to take the step towards college they’ll get in.

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school.

You’re graduating high school, now what?

I stayed up all night last night reading an ARC of GLORY O’BRIEN’S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE by A. S. King (dear lord people, so much glorious goodness coming this fall – make a note to read it!). This book is many amazing things, but it perfectly captures that moment when you graduate from high school and realize you have to figure out what comes next. For a lot of teens, the what next is college. For some, like Glory, it is a gap year. For others, it is straight to work.

Yesterday we talked about high school, but here are a couple of books from Zest Books that can help us all with the moments that come after high school.

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College by Halley Bondy

I’m not going to lie, my favorite item in this book was number 23: Spend quality time in the library . . . without doing homework. I was lucky enough to go to college in a town with two colleges, and the other college – Kenyon College – had the most amazing bookstore ever. We used to go all the time and hang out there; you would find wondrous things that you never knew existed. If you ever find yourself in Mount Vernon Ohio, go there. Even if you are kinda maybe a little bit close, drive in for a visit.

Some other good tips include taking a class that has nothing to do with your major, learn a language you’ve never studied, try a sport you’ve never tried (intramurals can be a good way to do this), and join an a capella group (or at least watch the movie Pitch Perfect and do this vicariously). And as an aside, many of these will apply to those who choose an alternate, non-college plan after high school. You can even find alternate ways to do some of the education related ones – like study a language or take a class outside of your major – by using your local library resources or taking a local community class.
Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School by Genevieve Morgan
The truth is, most of us don’t have our lives figured out when we graduate high school. I changed majors mid-stream and have a whole extra year of credits (and debt!) to show for it. Want to know what’s even better? I have an undergraduate degree in youth ministry that I basically don’t use (although I will admit the info was very informative to being a YA librarian). And college isn’t the right choice for everyone. And sadly, for many teens, it isn’t really an option at all.Undecided is a pretty good look at the many options that one has after high school, including not only higher education but military services and internships. There is a brief section on gap years (I just like saying gap years because I only learned they were called that last year – in a YA book no less!). Undecided also acknowledges the issue of money and has a chapter dedicated to budgets and planning. I really liked that this section talked about debt and acknowledged that anything they said in the book might already be irrelevant because the conversation kept changing so quickly: “Media reports regularly address what is going on with student loan debt, and things are changing so fast that what I tell you today probably will be out of date tomorrow” (page 68).  But the reality is, “Many college students and grads (even not-so-recent grads) are shackled by debt and the inability to get a job with a high enough salary to pay off that debt” (page 69). I thought the end advice was very spot on: “Take on as little debt as possible to pay for your education – even if this means needing more time to get your degree and working. Or going to a state school instead of a private college. If you do get a loan, read your contract carefully” (page 70).

So while I thought 77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College was fun and even insightful, I found Undecided to be a very important and helpful tool. Of course one is aimed more at high school students who are trying to figure out what comes after high school and the other is aimed at students who are past that point and are already in college.  They both meet their stated goals and are good resources.

77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish High School by Halley Bondy. Zest Books, 2014. 191 pages. ISBN: 978-1-936976-00-3.

Undecided: Navigating Life and Learning After High School by Genevieve Morgan. Zest Books, 2014. 247 pages. ISBN: 978-1-93676-32-4.