the true cost of college

3 Apr

 Looky here, ladies and gentlemen. Behold as I simultaneously respond to not one, but two (yes, two!) challenges/prompts. Thanks to Rarasaur, who you most definitely should follow, and to the creators of the A to Z Challenge.

“True Cost is a term for the often-overlooked, comprehensive expense of something, including the time-related and emotional costs.”-Prompts for the Promptless

For just about as long as I can remember, my dad has been obsessed with getting his kids into the top colleges. I’m not exactly sure when he started brainwashing us, but by preschool he had instilled in us the desire to achieve. One day in first grade, we had an education intern from Yale University come and observe the class/assist our teacher. We had a lovely conversation, and when I learned where she went to school I asked her if I could go there someday. 

“You can… if you work REALLY hard,” she told a much younger and much cuter version of me. I went home that day determined to go to Yale. I’m pretty sure my dad was so proud he cried a little bit. 

When my brother was in middle school, my dad started putting the pressure on. If he came home with anything less than an A, there came the standard, “Uh-oh, looks like you’ll end up going to Naugatuck Valley Community College and becoming a cashier at J. C. Penny’s*.” The refrain was repeated all throughout his high school years as well as my own. When we moved to Asia, he added a more racy catch phrase: “Study haaaaard. Get good grades,” he said, always in his ‘Korean mother’ accent**.

When my brother started the college process, I did too. I went with him to the colleges he visited, though I was four grades below him. I had my first SAT review books in 6th grade, though Dad didn’t insist I use them until 8th. But what really changed was my dad’s relationship with my brother. They used to fight, loudly. It scared my little sisters. My brother would swear at my dad, and my dad would swear right back. Somehow the Mormon guidelines to never swear only made each curse more potently cutting. Each word leapt with venom, but I’d bet it was my sisters and I who got stung. I couldn’t understand why my dad and my brother couldn’t get along. 

When I grew into high school, I was careful not to swear. American public high schools are like cesspools of profanity and general indecency. Even if you try to stay as far away from the pit of seething blackness, the stench pollutes the air and weasels its way into your lungs anyway. Needless to say, the stress stress stress and the constant bombards of foul language (if only it stopped at innocent little swears!) eventually got to me. I wound up doing the very thing I promised myself I would never do: I followed in my brother’s footsteps and started to fight with my dad and curse whenever I got really fumingly angry.   

Meanwhile, my brother had a rough time at college. In high school, he’d gotten rejected from all thirteen schools he applied to but one. Ironically enough, that one was an Ivy League. But my dad’s years of plotting and “no you can’t do that, it won’t get you into college”ing may not have paid off in the end. Out of the blue, my brother came home halfway through his second semester of sophomore year. For his mental health, he had to take a year off. After much therapy and meds, he went back for a second attempt. He was doing really well. Until he wasn’t anymore. The pressure of such a high-intensity, uber-competitive school combined with the permanent “you’re not good enough” mentality that colleges ingrain in unsuspecting high schoolers just took it out of him. He came home again, and stayed with us again.

His peers are now seniors, and we’re all grateful to say that he is on attempt number three at sophomore year. He’s joined a fraternity and he’s doing great… we hope.

Despite all the hard work I put into high school and extracurriculars and general nerdiness, when it came time for me to apply I wasn’t sure that that was what I wanted. My dad had been humbled (a bit) and no longer pushed as hard for top ten. After all, he wants what’s best for us… and he now recognizes that Ivy isn’t necessarily synonymous with success. I wound up applying to only two schools, instead of the twelve plus I’d always planned on. I didn’t even apply to Yale or to my brother’s school, as much as I love him. The truth is, I’ll be going to my safety school for a few reasons:

  1. For all four years of undergrad (assuming, unlike my brother, I only go for four years), I will save about $210,000 on tuition alone
  2. I have a bunch of friends there
  3. I really REALLY don’t want to turn into a basket case.

Here’s the thing. I won’t be getting any fancy internships or opportunities based on the prestige of my school and nothing else. I’ll have to work my butt off to come out in the top of my class if I even want to think about getting into med school. I won’t just literally bump into Steve Martin one day and have an awesome conversation about Blue Grass with him because most of the time the really famous people only visit top-tier schools. I wont have quite as many opportunities as my brother will. 

But to me, it just doesn’t seem to be worth the cost.


*No offense to any J. C. Pennys worker/customer/whatever or to any NVCC alums. It’s his phrase, not mine.

**Again, I want to stress that I did NOT coin the phrase. Although… my closest Korean friend while I lived in Japan, Springy, once began to cry when she got a 97 on her test. She said it was because she knew her mom would hit her… when she came home from juku (the Japanese word for cram school)… at around nine pm, which was considered quite early. After all, her friends and relatives in Korea would stay at cram school until one in the morning, then come home and start their homework.

13 Responses to “the true cost of college”

  1. Nandini Godara April 3, 2013 at 11:17 pm #

    Clear decision making is priceless! So kudos to you 🙂

    • chloeaevm April 4, 2013 at 8:03 am #

      Agreed. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. rarasaur April 4, 2013 at 4:33 am #

    Yikes! I’m glad you decided on a path that suits you. In the end, not to override your parents or anything, that’s all that matters. It really is. I’ve been to IVY leagues. I’ve been to community colleges. My parents (top notch educators) have taught at both. I’ve met famous people at both. I’ve been offered equivalently good jobs ventures and activities at both. The key is learning, involvement, and passion… not the numbers. I loved how human your response to this topic was– beautifully written. Good luck to you!

    • chloeaevm April 4, 2013 at 8:07 am #

      Thank you! I was actually really surprised at myself because I am usually completely indecisive. But this decision hardly felt like a decision at all. That’s how I know it’s the right one. I agree that it’s not about the numbers! Thank you for your kind words 🙂

  3. asignoflife April 4, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Goodness! This makes my mother’s insistence on colleges look like a cake walk! Good for you for standing up for yourself and making your own decisions.

    • chloeaevm April 4, 2013 at 8:18 pm #

      Haha thanks! It really wasn’t too bad. My parents supported my decision to go to the cheaper, less stressful school in the end (if only because it’s a church school). Thanks for stopping by 😀

      • asignoflife April 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

        I ended up trying to join the military (still in that process), and I think my mother was okay with it. I think. It’s good to have parents’ support, and I’m glad you’ve got yours (:

      • chloeaevm April 4, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

        Thanks! Good luck with the military!

  4. budrey May 30, 2013 at 5:06 am #

    “For just about as long as I can remember, my dad has been obsessed with getting his kids into the top colleges. I’m not exactly sure when he started brainwashing us, but by preschool he had instilled in us the desire to achieve.”

    I think your dad is trying his best to be good father with you. He want to give you a good education and a better future. So, just think it positively because your dad loves you so much.

    • chloeaevm May 30, 2013 at 7:46 am #

      I agree, he does it out of love! And I am grateful for that. I just wanted to capture the fact that he sometimes goes a bit overboard 😀 Thanks for your comment!


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