• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya
on deciding where to go to college. . .

on deciding where to go to college. . .

I remember making my college decision, but watching your daughter make it is a whole different ball game.

I know she is wise.

I know she is responsible.

I trust her ability to hear God speak, and that He will lead her. . .

But I was also praying for provision and wisdom – and that we could guide or support her in the way she needs from us as she transitions to adulthood. I am writing this blog post as an announcement, but also for other parents in our position, to tell a bit of what we learned along the way. (that will be in italics, in case you want to skip to the end)

Madeline started with 11 colleges, and she handled the entire thing on her own – picking the schools, getting letters of recommendation, writing the essays, following the uploads. She applied to almost every one early or rolling decision so we knew about 8 of 11 by February and the last 3 came the first week of April. She was super independent and my contribution consisted of fixing a few adverbs and asking questions where she said, “Yep, already done.”

 We ran into two major hurdles – College Board acknowledging external uploads, which made her Wake Forest application miss the early action deadline, and FAFSA, which was a whole mess this year.

For FAFSA, your child needs a US phone number that is not a google voice number. We didn’t have this, so my sister had to save the day. It took us somewhere between 10 and 15 attempts to get it submitted and then FAFSA didn’t send to the schools until 4 months later than normal. For that reason, full financial aid packages didn’t come out until the 3rd week of April when decision day was May 1st. In the end, FAFSA didn’t affect our decision as much as we thought it would, but it was chaotic none-the-less. Hopefully the kinks will be worked out by the time Annabelle applies.

For CollegeBoard, you need to leave a tiny buffer to make sure the receipt of everything is acknowledged – things show as uploaded but not confirmed. We only missed one deadline, and she still got accepted, but it was after a lot of the scholarship money had been given out.

We also learned a lot about financial aid and how being an American international student makes it super complicated – if you want details, please write us. We feel like God used it to guide us, but it was pretty stressful not having an “in state” option and realizing our primary residence or anything we had done to plan for the future were endlessly complicated topics.

After scholarships and financial aid played out, we had 4 main contenders that we knew we could make work– Wake Forest University, Berry College, Hope College, and Furman University. Madeline and I took at day the last week of May, made charcuterie and tea and coffee and pulled out every electronic device in our house and made a mind-map. 

She looked at 11 major categories that were important to her: weather, study abroad opportunities, international student support, mentorship programs, research opportunities, the political science and global health curriculums (and other possible majors and minors), churches nearby, diversity, dorms, food, and extra-curriculars.

We looked up everything we could find online about the category and picked the  winners. Then, we drew the next category from a hat and started again. We had a quick break at Kijabe Kahawa half way through the day, and by the end of the day we knew we were down to two – Furman or Hope College.  We were flying home for a family wedding, so we scheduled official visits both places and prayed it would be clear in the end. 

Our day at Furman was rainy and misty. Madeline had been there a million times as an alumni’s kid, but never as a prospective student. David and I tried to suppress telling stories, but it was hard as we saw the myriad of changes of the last 20 years. The tour took us to David’s freshman dorm hall – which is now renovated and a girl’s dorm. The gymnasium was completely redone, and the cafeteria was serving salmon. The girls laughed at us as we greeted professors and the lunch lady that was still there and asked if it was normal that people remembered us 25 years later. David took a video of the North Village apartments where the juniors and seniors live so we can build a version in Kijabe. I could see here there, but it was hard to remove my alumni lens and I wondered if it could ever be hers like it was ours. . .

We watched Madeline warm to it a bit as the day went on, and start to ask questions –

About the food, the library, the political science tracks and the foreign study opportunities.

That evening she was actually really frustrated because she didn’t have a clear no or yes. We went back the next day to talk to one of my professors about global health opportunities without medical school. She didn’t hate it. She admitted she actually liked it –  but in the end she wasn’t sure. Hope was going to have to win, because Furman seemed like it could work.

Two days later, Madeline and I flew to Michigan to visit Hope College – a school of about 3500 on the shores of Lake Michigan. My cousin Rachel picked us up and we stayed at my Uncle Jim’s house which is 25 minutes away and went on Saturday for admitted students day. I wore a sweater and a coat and long john’s for the brisk April day and we joined 400 other students trying to make their decision. Madeline got a water bottle for being from the farthest away and the college president made a speech that got my attention – telling the students that they were all accepted because they showed a propensity not to accept the world as it was and to be part of making it better.  From there, we went to the political science department’s information session, and I could tell by the end of that hour that Madeline was done. She had found her college.  The department is small, but really focused on international policy, not prelaw – the professors were impressive but also informal and she was sitting forward and visibly relaxed by the time we got up to leave. The foreign study session only reinforced it, as he can spend up to 3 semesters away while she is there for the same price as tuition, anywhere from DC to New Zealand. They have a robust international student program that includes third culture kids (what Madeline is – neither completely where she lives or her passport country, but a unique entity in and of herself), which also made her feel welcome and at ease.

From there we went to dorm, which she said reminded her of home, bought a bunch of Hope College swag from the bookstore, got her student ID, and headed out to find a the best vegetarian restaurant and celebrate. We had lunch with my cousins and aunt and uncle the next day, and I relaxed, knowing they would have her back on the days of inevitable homesickness or mini-emergencies. She’s also been accepted into their Phelps Scholars program (https://hope.edu/academics/phelps-scholars/) which will give her yet another community to embrace and embrace her.

We know the weather on the lake effect side of Lake Michigan will be new (although we did go to the lake beach and lighthouse on the way to the airport), but that seems to be everyone’s only concern, and we are super excited to know where she will be spending the next 4 years. . .and to see where all the twists and turns have led us.

If you want to help us get her set up for her dorm room, she has set up a wishlist here: https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3SODQZSD3ECIF?ref_=wl_share

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