and thoughts for funding their daughters' future education.
I'm the oldest of four children and my parents made it known early on that I was expected to graduate from college with a useful degree. They wanted to usher their children into a debt-free adulthood but with my father's job as a teacher, money was tight. Their solution to this issue was for my mom to find a job at a college with the benefit of free tuition for dependents. So when I was in junior high school, my mom secured a job as an administrative assistant at Northeastern University. Why so many years in advance? She needed to be a full time employee for five years before that benefit kicked in. NU was the only college I applied to, which irked my guidance counselor to no end. "What if you aren't accepted?" I was accepted.
While I hadn't been overly concerned with my grades in high school, I took college much more seriously. My brothers and I were used to having a stay at home mom and we all made sacrifices when she went back to work. My mom dealt with the same draining train commute that I have now. I wanted my parents to be proud of me and I knew that my grades would directly impact my future career.
When I was a junior in high school, my mom found me a full time summer job in an office on campus. I worked that same job again the summer before I started college classes. Once classes began, I worked part-time in the Bursar's Office. I held that job my entire freshman year and returned to my full time summer job at the end of June.
NU has a large commuting population, which I was a member of. I had a really hard time adjusting during my freshman year because I felt so disconnected from everyone. I was literally alone on this huge college campus. I was so miserable after that first year that I considered attempting to transfer to Boston College, with a safer campus.
Sophomore year was a game changer. I finally made some friends and two of them kept inviting me to stay over their place. They had a third roommate who paid rent and had a bed in their apartment but who was never, ever there. It was all for show because her parents wouldn't allow her to live with her boyfriend, but she really was living with her boyfriend. As part of NU's cooperative education program, I ended up with job in the tax department of Coopers & Lybrand, one of the big 6 public accounting firms at the time. Each year, they accepted four sophomore students into their program and the majority of those students returned to work for them each cycle, and were eventually offered full time positions during their senior year. One of those friends who kept inviting me to stay over was included in that group of four students. For the next several years, I would work January through June at Coopers and then return to classes for the summer and fall quarters. I was 19 years old when I started working at C&L and my paychecks were insane to me. We were paid time and a half for overtime work (double time for Sundays) and because this was public accounting during tax season, we often worked 70-80 hours a week. I eventually quit my between classes job at the Bursar's Office as I was making more than enough money at my co-op job to cover my expenses for the entire year. I actually took a pay cut when I became a full time, salaried employee after graduation.
After my freshman year, I thoroughly enjoyed my college experience. I lived all over the place for a few years, either commuting from my parents' home or sleeping on friends' couches over the weekends. One quarter, I paid my friend's share of rent when she went to work in NYC and had a bed to sleep on instead of a couch. I eventually ended up in the suburbs in the in-law apartment of my childhood home. (That's a long story right there.) But I mention all this to highlight that I wasn't set up in a swanky apartment on Gainsborough Street. Attending college in the middle of the city added an extra dimension to the experience. My parents were obviously concerned with my safety. Almost everyone I knew who lived in the city was a victim of theft. Either their apartments were robbed or their cars had been broken into. I had friends who lived on the other side of the tracks (and that's not just an expression, they were on the other side of the train tracks) in a new condo, with low rent because of the location. One night walking back to their apartment, they were robbed and beaten to the point where they had to be hospitalized. Every week, the university's crime log would list multiple thefts of backpacks from the library. If you aren't street-smart, hopefully you learn to be.
Rich is number ten in a line up of thirteen children. Growing up within city limits, he and his siblings attended Boston Public Schools. To the extent that his parents could afford to send them to private schools, they did so. For example, Rich and several of his brothers graduated from Catholic Memorial. Once you graduated from high school, you were on your own with respect to college. If you wanted to attend, you needed to pay your own way. Rich worked a full time job at UPS while paying his way at UMass/Boston.
I've heard the stereotype that if you pay for your own college education, you're bound to be more focused and have better grades. Rich thoroughly disagrees with this. His priorities were different and he says that because he was working full time, he was less focused on studying. There's also the opposite stereotype that if your tuition is paid for by someone else (outside of a scholarship) than it won't be as important to you to achieve high grades. In addition to consistently maintaining a spot within the top 5% of students in the College of Business, I graduated with a 3.69 GPA. Admittedly, it was fantastic not having to worry about paying for tuition and not having a student loan to pay off after graduation but that didn't mean that it wasn't going to try my hardest.
Rich and I both agree that if our girls decide to attend college, we would like to be able to pay for their tuition. Unfortunately, we could potentially have three attending at the same time and with the cost of tuition skyrocketing, our contribution may not be what we would like it to be. We've taken the approach that we'll do the best we can. The future is too difficult to predict and preparing is all you really can do. I do believe that there's no right or wrong way to handle your child's higher education. It's a parenting decision and we all parent differently. The world would be somewhat boring if we all experienced life in the same manner.