How to Bounce Back if Your Kid Rejects Your Beloved Alma Mater

I knew it from the moment I set foot on campus.  It was the fall of my senior year of high school and a friend of mine who had just begun her freshman year of college invited me to visit her at school.  It was a quick two-day trip, but it was filled with activities and brand new experiences.

Parents sometimes wish their kids would attend their alma mater

I attended my first Division I football game where I saw school spirit taken to new heights.  I walked around campus and truly understood what “collegiate feel” meant.  I had my first taste of meal-plan food and wondered how “the freshman 15” could be a concern for anyone.  I saw students who were passionate not only about their academics, but about their frisbee football game in the quad as well.  I was hooked.

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I investigated other options, but my heart was set on the liberal arts college in beautiful Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. I applied, I was accepted, and my parents put down a deposit.

The summer before school began my roommate and I wrote letters in an effort to get to know one another and a few months later I embarked on my four-year adventure. I was challenged academically.  I understood true homesickness.  I tried reinventing myself from the studious, insecure girl that I was in high school.  I met amazing people with whom I still maintain friendships.  I was introduced to a great guy from across the country who, a few years after graduation, I would marry. My roommates, who are some of my dearest friends today, were bridesmaids in our wedding.  My college experience was an incredibly positive time in my life.

It was no surprise then, that once my husband and I became parents, I unknowingly passed down my love for our alma mater to our three children.  I dressed them in college gear from the time they were babies.  I called them our Little Eagles.  On Saturday afternoons our family cheered on the football team from our living room (when the game was available in our part of the country, but I digress…).

I hung ornaments with the university seal on our Christmas tree.  I fostered in our kids a healthy but fierce rivalry with the other Catholic university located in South Bend, Indiana. And once they were old enough to understand the concept of college they spoke of being students at our alma mater themselves one day.  I had them drinking the Kool Aid, to coin a phrase.

Fast forward to our oldest daughter’s college search.  As the first-born she has always known what she wanted.  She was looking for a small-ish Catholic school with a four-year nursing program within a specific geographic location: East Coast, as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Virginia. She was fortunate to attend a small high school that offered college counseling and her college counselor gave her a list of schools to visit based on the criteria our daughter shared with her. I was ecstatic when our alma mater made the short list along with a few other fantastic choices.

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What an incredibly exciting time it was.  I think my husband and I enjoyed the college visits more than she did. Of course the visit to our alma mater went swimmingly.  She loved it and I could picture her there.

And then we visited the other schools also on the list.  At one in particular, one that she was initially hesitant to visit, I saw a transformation.  She was connecting with the surroundings in a way that I had not seen at any of the other schools.  She was incredibly engaged with our tour guide and asked her pointed questions.  She was chatty with the other students in our tour group and took a real interest in where they were from and what they wanted to study.

My husband turned to me and said, “I think this is her school.”  I immediately dismissed him telling him it was way too early to make a prediction like that.  But if I’m being honest I think deep down in my heart I knew he was right.  And I was a little bit crushed. 

The fall of her senior year she went through the process of college admissions like millions of other students do each year.  Essays, transcripts, SATs, it was all on a loop.  But before any of the applications had actually been submitted she said she needed to ask me a question. “Mom, would you be really upset if I didn’t attend your school? I mean, I know how much you love it and everything.”

And there it was.  Yes, I did love it, maybe a little too much quite frankly.  But more importantly I had made my dream her dream.  Along the way I had made her feel that my alma mater was, of course, her school.  Why wouldn’t it be? And then I thought back to that visit, the one where she just seemed so excited for her future.  I knew what my answer needed to be.  I assured her that the choice was hers and that I would be happy with whatever decision she made.

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She’s a junior now immersed in clinicals and a pathophysiology class that is kicking her butt.  She’s loved every minute of it and I have too.  Parents’ Weekend is so much fun, on the other side of it. Her school colors are black and red, which I can rock.  Watching her dream unfold is such a gift to her dad and me.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.  And Eagles and Cardinals are both beautiful birds.

Photo credit: Maroongold82


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Ila Rosengarten is a wife and mother of three living in Littleton, Colorado. She received her BA in English from Boston College and works in College Counseling at Mullen High School in Denver. Some of her work can be found on the Option B website as well as the GOPIO organization website.
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