As a working mom of three I often wake up at an ungodly early hour to make sure that I find a little “me” time in my day. Sometimes I do an early spin class or go for a run, and sometimes I have a quiet cup of tea. This spring, I found myself treasuring an extra half hour of reading time. Among my favorite places to visit is the New York Times Motherlode blog. Last week, they featured a series on college savings, which was particularly interesting to me given my line of work.
As I read the posts, I found myself reacting less as a college admissions expert and more as a parent of three. This piece in particular closely reflected my own family’s actions.
Investing in Children’s Futures
Not all of the details are the same. But on the whole, we spend a whole lot more money investing in our children and who they are becoming than in their 529 college savings plans. Competitive swim team, travel soccer, piano lessons, ballet class, after school care—it adds up fast. Even though our income surpasses the one identified in the article, paying $50,000 to $60,000 per year for three children to attend college still feels impossible. With my oldest heading into seventh grade, the savings clock is ticking. Loudly.
Soon that familiar question, which bubbles up so frequently for parents in-the-trenches with small and school-age kids, started to creep into my head: “Am I doing the right thing?” My “me time” soon turned into stress time. (I should have gone to spin instead of reading blogs, I guess.) So, I did what anyone who has the College Coach benefit through their employer can do at 5:30 in the morning when the panic sets in. I sent the college experts an email asking what they thought.
College Savings Stress and the Value of Reassurance
The thoughtful, reassuring responses started pouring in as I got the kids up, prepared their breakfasts, found the sports uniform for one and an overdue library book for another, and sent them off to school. In all, I received more than five helpful responses from qualified experts before 9 AM. The stress subsided, and by 8:30 I was ready to start my work day with a clear head, focused on my professional responsibilities. What felt like an overwhelming problem just a few hours earlier – how to pay for three children going to college when I’m not sure I’ll qualify for much financial aid – was no longer monopolizing my thoughts.
Maybe I’m alone because I work in this field; because education is so important to me; and because, while I’m not quite a tiger mom, I do probably fit somewhere in the more benign branch of the cat family. But I don’t think it’s just me. Even from my early days as an admissions officer I would ask my family not to tell others about my job, and I never shared my work with strangers at parties or on planes because people had so many questions once they learned what I did for a living. They were stressed out and worried, and many were spending a lot of time trying to figure out the right answers to their questions.
What all working parents have in common is that they want their children to have bright and secure futures filled with potential. These days the pathway to that future most often means getting the best possible education. We worry, we research, we Google search: Common Core, Common Application, common strategies to pay for college. But when we can simply send an early morning email and get a clear, accurate and helpful answer, we can put the worries to rest and get back to our nine to five responsibilities. Even this expert needs it.