Friday, April 3, 2009

Sorting Through the Clues

He got it! Our son got selected for the scholar program (which we and twenty-seven other families learned last weekend is not really full tuition, but close). He was thrilled. He came home from school on Wednesday just in time to meet the Fedex man at the door. They sent out his acceptance into the program the day after his interview!

He called me at work. "Mom," he said, "I got it. Let's just tell them yes. Let's just end this." No, I insisted, let's wait for the financial packages from ______ and ______ and ______, three schools you had been very interested in, one of which has told you they'll match the best offer you get. "No," he said. "I want to go here. Let's just do it."

I heard and admired his resolve. I congratulated him and let him know how proud I was of what he was accomplishing. My husband did the same. And to the men in my family, that was that. Decision made. End of story.

Of course, for me it's more complicated, because tonight the school that he described as having the ideal campus (it's in a city), the one he never did let himself get too hopeful about because he thought it was a "reach" school, a crazy-hopeful shot in the dark, not only accepted him but offered him a staggering amount of money to go there. This, by the way is the most expensive school in the country, but once they give you a financial package, it's set for all four years. They guarantee your cost of attendance will never increase, and your financial package will never decrease. It might go up if, say, you lose your job, but never down. What they offer in return for their high-end degree is a little certainty. And major financial packages. The award they gave our son brings our out-of-pocket costs for both schools into the same ballpark.

So what do we do? I'm wondering. Go with the smaller, less fancy school with solid academics and engaged faculty in a lovely part of the country, where he would be in a program with some thoughtful, motivated kids? We met them last weekend, and to a young man and young woman, they were an impressive crew. We left there not at all sure our boy would be selected, the competition felt incredibly stiff. Plus, he didn't really speak up in the larger group. Not once did he raise his hand as the other kids were offering insightful and provocative and humane observations about the state of our world. I sat across the auditorium from him (the kids ditched their parents in favor of one another from day one), silently willing him to raise his hand while simultanously counting how many other kids still hadn't spoken up, how much company he still had. There weren't many. He was one of maybe three out of twenty-eight finalists who didn't stand and deliver.

But maybe the staff and faculty and deans of the program (who we also really liked a lot), were watching the other interactions, too. Our boy may not be so comfortable as a public speaker (yet), but he is a connector. In the smaller groups, his charisma and curiousity about other people, kicked in. Whatever group he was in, the kids all ended up talking animatedly. At other tables on the first day, the kids tended to be reserved with one another. But at our son's table at lunch, and again at dinner, we watched him introduce himself to his companions, then introduce them to each other, and then the conversation would begin. That's what he does. He makes people feel seen and valued and a part of things, and he has a quick sense of humor, and he's also a great conversationalist (My mom has always said this about him. Even when he was five, he was a favorite dinner companion. "You're never bored with him at your side," she said).

And apparently, on the overnight, when we stayed in the hotel and he stayed with his hosts on campus, all the kids really bonded, both the kids already in the program, and the kids hoping to be selected to enroll in the fall. These are the students who would be his cohort group if he goes to the school. Serious minded but fun loving at the same time. These are the kids he would travel abroad with every single year.

I guess it's becoming clearer where I'm going to land, here. I should say to my son, Good choice. Yes, go for the school where you've had not a single negative encounter so far, met not a single person, adult or student, who you didn't feel you could embrace, the school that made you feel wanted from the get, gave you a good package, then chose you to be part of a program that offered you an even better one. The fact that your cousin who you've been spending summer vacations with since you were six and four also goes there, is pure gravy.

So is this the school the universe is pointing us to? Why else would everything just so gracefully unfold? I think God held off and letting us know the financial package from the other fancy-pants school because God knew I would get confused.

But I'm still confuzzuled. What do we do?


  1. Trying to decide between two wonderful schools offering great financial packages - what a happy problem!

    I can't give you any helpful advice, but I wish you well with this big decision.

  2. Thanks, ellen. My cousin says the good thing about being torn between two options is that either option is a good one!