Today is College Day at my kids’ school, and at many other elementary, middle and high schools in Santa Clara County. It’s an event spearheaded by the volunteer-led First-Generation College Attainment Coalition to create a college-going culture in Santa Clara County and help children and youth plan and design their path to college. As I’ve mentioned before, our public school has a very mixed demographic. There are children of doctors and children of housecleaners. And that’s okay. We can all learn from each other in one way or another.
Higher education was a big deal when I was growing up, especially since my parents came to America as a result of the Immigration Act of 1965, which allowed more people from Asia to enter the country — if they had education or professional skills that were needed in the United States. So going to college was a given in my family. What my parents instilled in me was that I was expected not only to go to college — but a good university, and preferably to attain a Master’s or Ph.D. At least I went to a good college!
We talk to our boys about college, and joke that they’d better go to Cal like Mom and Dad. Harvard or Yale would be acceptable, too, provided they win a scholarship. But the reality is getting into college is so much more competitive for their generation than it was for ours. When I was growing up, getting in Berkeley was held up as the ideal among my community of Taiwanese immigrants. In Taiwan, the top schools, from elementary to university level, are run by the government. Also, the University of California system was such a ridiculously excellent value; Berkeley was in the top handful of universities ranked by U.S News and World Reports, yet my four-year education cost as much as one semester’s tuition at a private school. But I’ve come around to thinking that going to a big sink-or-swim U.C. school is not for everyone. A smaller, liberal arts college might be a more nurturing environment for some people. Or a state college that offers practical job skills, not just theoretical learning. I want my kids to have options when it comes time to decide. But I know that some of those options are determined by the choices I make now, as a parent, while they are young. What kind of classes do they need to take? Is public school going to provide them the foundation they need– or is it really necessary to go to a private prep school to meet the requirements? And just how many extracurricular activities do they really need? And just how do you pay for college?
We have a few years yet before our kids have to take SATs or fill out college applications, but I don’t want to bury my head in the sand, either.
Are you thinking about college yet? Or perhaps your kids are older, and you’ve already been through this — what advice do you have?