Looking in car’s rear-view mirror, I envisioned that shy, 4-year-old girl who’d barely talk to me but grinned when I made silly faces at her.
Sure, she’s 17 now, and we were heading out of town for her first college visit. She’s a high school junior now, but it’s hard for a parent to look back at a child and think of anything else but your favorite era with the kid.
Honestly, this trip felt a bit like a child’s play date anyway. We were going to check a college that wasn’t my alma mater and wasn’t her mother’s either. She’s interested in a major I’d never heard about before. I seriously doubted whether anyone needed people in this line of work.
From my thinking, she might as well have told us she wanted to play with dolls and eat Pringles the rest of her life, something she once said as a 4-year-old.
I have a college degree, but sometimes I question if it’s a good investment. For many people, it just isn’t. It’s a financial burden people carry throughout life, and it doesn’t always equate to bigger earnings than people in the trades or pursuing their passions without a degree. I’ve told our teen, who isn’t necessarily a fixture on the honor roll, that her future should only include college if she truly believes she needs it.
Still, I wanted to be supportive of her, so her mother and I hit the road with her to see what there was to see. Since my wife and I each have degrees from Mid-American Conference institutions, and this was another MAC school, I knew how to tease about it.
When we went to get aboard a shuttle bus, the college student stopped the line as we were about to board, saying it was full. I joked there were probably three more spots, since I wasn’t sure they knew how to count at this school. My wife laughed. My eldest daughter bristled.
Our daughter owned this trip. We had almost nothing to do with it, besides showing up that day. She researched and picked this particular school. She figured out when its visit day was. She registered for it. She even picked which sessions we’d attend throughout the day. Honestly, about half the teens attending didn’t look like they wanted to be there, as their parents were clearly in control, asking most of the questions during the sessions.
Our daughter was different. She was intently listening, scribbling notes about wages, about tuition, about financial assistance.
My thoughts finally turned when a slide popped up on the screen for her major. Something I thought she’d made up is an in-demand profession, paying wages comparable to what I make. One of the students attending the college, who we later learned happened to be from Shawnee, said she was graduating this year with the same degree our daughter wanted. She explained why that university is considered one of the best in the country for this up-and-coming major.
After the session ended, my daughter marched right up to that college senior and started asking questions about the course of study. I marveled at my daughter’s self-confidence. It turns out they both were interested in the degree because it involved more hands-on work and less math and science. From her experiences, the classes truly prepared her to do the work.
We stopped at a bookstore and picked up a sweatshirt for her on the way out of town. She pulled it over her clothes.
I looked back in the rear-view mirror. I saw a determined, 17-year-old young woman ready for college and her life’s plan.