Monday, 15 March 2010

Expat Teen Parenting

Life as an expat is one big learning curve, but when your mistakes start to have a direct impact on your teen, it enters a new dimension. So far I've managed to commit only venial sins, like trying to make them eat beans on toast (why don't Americans get this?) and not bothering with corn dogs and sloppy joes.  Last week however, I almost totally screwed things up for the Queenager.

I'm talking about the college application procedure, which is so totally different from my British experience I might as well be having to speak Urdu at the same time. In my day, you told the teaches which A levels you wanted to take and as long as they didn't laugh in your face, that seemed to be it. You studied like mad (-ish) for two years, turned up on the allotted day in June and took your exam. I don't remember having to book the dates myself or choose which exam board to take.

In the USA my daughter can take one of two exams to help get her into college - the ACTs or the SATs. The first "decision" was to figure out which one to take. Some kids take both but since she has a learning disability, we needed to make sure we got this decision right. Cue extra tuition fees and a little diagnostic work to settle on the ACTs. Now that we've made that decision, we had to apply for a few accommodations (ie. extra time) which she has been given at school since 2001. Despite copious reports from doctors etc. ACT decided that she didn't need them. Cue much wailing and nashing of teeth (done on this very blog too) and a huge appeal by school. I'm glad of their support, although the Queenager didn't appreciate being the "shoe-in" candidate.

Next we have to decide when she does the ACT. You can take it as many times as you want, and send in only your best score. Most kids take it about three times in our school, but the timing is very strategic and usually planned around the math(s) syllabus. Just when you think you're all done and dusted, you get a note from school reminding you that you only have 48 hours to register for the aforementioned test. What? What? Nobody told me that! What the hell are the schools doing if they don't register the kids?

Rush to ACT website, pick date, fill out registration fields, - and find credit card. I certainly don't remember my parents having to shell out for my school exams.

Next comes the college application process, which in my day was done through the UCAS system, on one sheet of paper. Here, although our school has an excellent college counseling department, the kids have to apply to each college seperately, and of course, pay an application fee. Many kids visit the colleges they're interested in before applying, which since the Q is interested in colleges thousands of miles apart, could turn out to be an expensive little exercise. (We are visiting a few in Indiana to start with - only a four hour drive.)

I need to go and lie down.
Expat Mum


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  2. Stressful times all round. We don't have to pay for exams (except resits so if yours can do 3 and take best score, I'm not surprised they charge you) but you do pay for Ucas too. Most kids do visit the uni open days (but I appreciate geographically not as much as an issue) and my best friends son who wants to do a drama degree was charged £35 to audition for LIPA (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts)

    I fully expect my daughters degree to cost in the region of £36,000 and sadly I know where most of the money will be coming from.

    And I'm trying not to think about what I could have bought if I didn't have 3 of them to put through uni, but it's a heck of a lot of shoes and holidays. Or I could have bought a really nice car, I'm going to stop now before I depress myself xxx

  3. Clearly - as you can see from all the spelling mistakes, it's a long time since I was in a classroom!
    Aaghh - college fees. I was looking at some of the colleges she's interested in and we're probably looking at about $35,000 PER YEAR. And they go to college here for four years. It would be cheaper to have her attend a British univesity as a foreign student.

  4. Not as long as me clearly, it wasn't even UCAS when I went, it was UCCA, and if you wanted to apply to a polytechnic, you had to do that separately then.

    I did Highers in Scotland in Fifth Year and some more in Sixth Year and although I didn't do well enough at the end of Fifth Year for my chosen university, I was more relaxed at the end of Sixth Year because I had a conditional offer for my preferred university if I got enough but an unconditional for a nearby poly if I didn't.

    Oh that's a long time ago - 1989!

  5. I sympathise. I hate these moments when the planets all have to be in perfect alignment for things to go well (or for things to happen at all). We have one waiting to hear from uni's at the moment, after having gone through several hoops on her way to this moment. Im not sure it was as complicated as this though. And I feel pretty irritated on your behalf that a person who has plenty of evidence of need for extra time needed to go through such stress to get it. Good luck mum, stay sane. I hope the Q has selected some fab locations--at least you'll have a few nice weekends away if thats the case!

  6. Jen - I was almost married by then. I forgot it used to be UCCA. It was all very strategic even then though. I got rejected by Leeds because I put them as my third choice for Law. Apparently that wasn't the done thing!
    Mich- The Q is only looking at freezing cold places so I've told her I'm not visiting her between December 1st and about March 20th! (University of Maine for gawd's sake. It's in the middle of nowhere!)

  7. Oh, Leeds rejected me too, and they were fourth on my form! I always wondered why, my predicted grades would have been fine for the course I wanted, so now I wonder if that was why, the fact I placed it fourth. How political!

  8. My memory is so bad that I have almost no recollection of any of this and I was raised and went to university in the states (not including my time as a student overseas, in the usa I went to nursing school and another 3 colleges-all of that over a 5 year period)

  9. Not sure how long you've been in the US, but Universities in the UK are not getting great press. Apparently many parents are looking to greener pastures, so your trails and tribulations are possibly not as severe as tehy may seem!

  10. This warms the cockles of my heart (as in, misery loves company). I did this last year for my son, who is now comfortably ensconced in his freshman year of college. If it helps, I soooo know what you are going through.

    I, too, was raised in the British system of education, took my A levels on the appointed dates, and moved in orderly progression to the single American college that I applied to, early decision. It happened to be an Ivy League school, but what did I know. Had I known, I would not have had to audacity to apply to it! My son, on the other hand, applied to 12 colleges. I predict you will learn to love the Common Application! And btw, thank God your school sent a note reminding you about registering for the ACT. My son missed it completely and had to make do with rather mediocre SATs. So your daughter's school is actually on the ball.

    I sometimes think I would not have survived the process without being able to vent and process on my blog. So I will certainly check back to see how it's going for you. I will have to do this again in a year, for my daughter.

  11. My daughter is in 10th grade and we are already receiving things it's crazy. I think if she has a good counselor let her help thats what they get paid for. Alot of colleges have virtual tours online.

  12. I think I'll have to start another blog specifically geared towards expat academic stuff. It's a minefield when you don't know what you're doing. Fortunately, a lot of the colleges go on tour and come to our school. BU is also going to be in downtown Chicago in April and have invited the Queenager to attend something. I'm all over that!

  13. Toni, I work in the Testing department of a school system so we deal with state testing and SAT-10 testing. I was bragging up the UCAS system recently because I think it's a brilliant idea. One stop shopping for college applications. How clever is that? We do it for financial aid ( why not for college apps?

    I have lucked out with my son because he is so laid back. Basically I told him he's going to Glasgow and if he decides not to go then his second choice is our local community college. That's it. Those are his choices. He's like, "Okay!" Part of me wishes he was more motivated sometimes but other times I'm glad he's so easily pleased. I'm looking forward to hearing about your college search.

  14. A former colleague told me that's why she thought the tuition at a private school was worth it - they did a fantastic job apparently of counseling her kids through the collage application process.

    I had pretty good advice when I was applying to uni. in 1979. I was told if I didn't put York first they wouldn't even consider me. Even though I put them first, I don't think they even gave me an offer, or if they did it was something ridiculous like 3 As. Hull, OTOH, was flattered that I put them second, gave me a good offer of BCD and still took me when I got ABF. I went to York for my PGCE though.

    AuntieGwen - £36,000? That would be a bargain compared to colleges here that charge $33,000+ a year (and you have to pay for 4 years not 3.)

  15. Oooh, Glasgow. Fun. You'll need to go and visit (wink).
    And yes, the school has a College Counseling department with 5 full-time staff (and less than five hundred high schoolers) so they do get a lot of help. I just wish they would lower their expectations of me. I keep telling them to assume I know nothing, and they think I'm joking!!!

  16. Oh boy, do I feel your pain. I am in the middle of this right now. By May 1st The Geek has to make her choice. She was so pigheaded that she only applied to 3 places, only one of which is in our state. Last week they rejected her and I was devastated.

    She HAS won a scholarship to a private University in California which will significantly reduce her tuition costs, but it's still expensive. We have no savings so really don't understand where we stand with any of this. Many's the time I've longed for the simplicity of UCCA! We've had no guidance from the HS, who just seem to be interested in graduation, so I've had to research everything myself. I basically decided to 'market' my kid!

    What I do know now is that Senior year of High School has been expensive enough. Gone are the days when the kids ask you for 20 bucks, now I'm having to dole out 100 dollar bills! I have paid more than $1000 over the past year because she was eligible for College in the High School Credits and then $70 college application fees and money to have her transcript released from school etc on top of that. Every college has a different process and so it's terribly confusing. Graduation is costing several hundred too and we won't talk about Senior Prom!

    Brace yourself, it gets worse!

  17. I hear you Jane - I have kids asking me if they can get involved in my charitable organization (another story) and when I scratch below the surface, it's "resume fodder". Outrageous. "Do crew, because no one else does it and it'll look good". Please.

    There are a lot of Brits looking this way over the Pond, thinking the lifestyle is better, but it has a way of "biting you in the butt" as they say. My sibs are complaining about the UK tuition fees, (which are a lot more than my parents paid, I admit) but - I wish!

  18. What I can't reconcile myself with is the quality of the education. I'm paying for general Ed for the first 2yrs of college and only after that will they get to specialise. At least in the UK I got more value for money!

    From the moment they enter High school it's all about "looking good on your resume." In fact for many that all starts the moment they show any aptitude for sports at which point half the parents in the country start chasing the elusive "Full ride sports scholarship." I can understand the desire, but I'm sure if they added up what they spent in tuition and travel over 10yrs, they'd find they could have paid for college anyway.

    In this day and age a college education no longer guarantees you a well paid job either. As a product of a recession myself, I worry that it's all a huge financial risk.