Big Parenting Lie: The College Search Will Be SO Much Fun

As a parent of three, I’ve held fast to a number of myths over the years. (Content babies will mean a content personality forever) (If I can get them on the correct schedule, they will follow the schedule like robots) (If I just can teach them how to make eggs, they will not starve later in life) (If I don’t pick up their wet towels, they eventually will pick them up on their own). 

Some myths exist because I want to believe so fervently in them, others because it helped me get through the long hour, the long week, the long year. And one of the lies that I have told myself recently is that the college search with my son will be fun.

The college search with my middle child is definitely not fun. (Twenty20 @Hanni)

The college search is NOT fun

What was I thinking? It is the opposite of fun. It’s exciting and stressful but it has not been fun.

My son is the middle of three children. So, this is not my first rodeo so to speak with the dark and murky path of post-secondary planning. And other than getting the FAFSA ID and password tattooed onto my body, I can forget using anything else I learned from the process with my eldest. It’s utterly useless. Because it seems that by some cruel twist of fate-each child is completely different. Who knew? 

My first one wanted a college smaller than her high school (3,500 students) and no further than 3.5 hours from our doorstep. It was easy and economical to take a few tours to compare and contrast. When we narrowed the field down by size and what we could afford, I (foolishly) thought I had found a great match school for her three hours and 41 minutes away and she was appalled. 3.5 and no more than 3.5 she said. I told her we could drive faster but she still refused to consider it. She found a school. And that was that. She has made a good match for herself.

My kids are different in what they want in a college

My son is very laid back. Very. Like-let’s check the pulse occasionally laid back. We both want him to find a good match college for him but our approach is “different.” He wants to go to college but is not likely to be THAT kid who does copious amounts of research in his spare time and I’ve heard through the grapevine that I need to “chill.” 

If I light a fire under him, he simply absorbs the fire. So, I thought we could at least narrow the field of schools down. In contrast to his sister who wanted nearby, he wants to be as far as possible. Out of state and he does not mean a state that borders this one. If they started a school on the moon, he would quickly sign up to be part of the inaugural class at Moon School.

I beg him to give us something to work with. So, he takes a few days to think it over. Then this child looks at me placidly and says, “West?” We are in the Midwest. So “West” encompasses literally half of the United States. I need to chill. I’m aware.

And so, we press on. We have used Naviance and looked at good academic fit, west of us, within our price range, with his intended major, and high likelihood of admission. I have researched things like I’m about to write a dissertation. We have finally made a list.

My son and I have different ideas of the best school for him

Our biggest issue now is the gap between what I think would be best and what he thinks is best. Because we are not seeing the same person. He sees a nearly eighteen year old. I see that and the eight year old that once was, and the six year old and hints of twelve and a glimpse of him at 26 and so on…

Way back in the dark ages when I applied to college, the search was quite simple. None of this experience is remotely helpful now either. There was an acrylic stand in my high school guidance office filled with brochures. I loved the one for Montana State. There was an extremely handsome guy in a plaid shirt on a mountain wearing a backpack. Based on that, I thought it was definitely worth looking into. I loved everything about their school from those 3 shiny pages, but did feel a bit sad thinking he may not still be there by the time I could arrive on campus.

Applying to college was different back in my day

In the end, I applied to three places in state largely based on where my friends applied. The large public university, and two small private colleges. I hand wrote my sad little essay in black pen. I attached a photo of myself with a paperclip for one application. Who knows why? We didn’t ask such questions in the 1980’s. A month later I received the big envelopes (YAY) versus the small envelopes (BOO) about admissions decisions and then waited many weeks to see what financial aid would look like. 

We and our kids, have access to so much more data that informs the application and admission process. Fold in social media and our students have even more information. Too much. They know what the dorms look like, seen what the football games look like, a science lab, a sorority rush, what a typical weekend looks like. They have countless websites and apps and viral TikToks that are all shaping what they think about a particular school, state, region. But just like the rest of the world is learning, it’s not prudent to judge our own lives against a heavily filtered feed. 

I will be crossing my fingers he/we can make a good college choice. One that is a good fit for him. One that he is content with long term. One that forces students to call their mother often. Which school is that? What is more parental than trying to help them make good choices and eventually letting them go to hopefully make their own? He is on his own journey, on his own road. It’s just hard to stand on the shoulder of that road right now and watch him navigate. I want to cover my eyes sometimes.

By the time my third child graduates we will be fresh out of energy and money and so he will be going to clown college. I’ve already decided to steer him in this direction. Please don’t bother telling me to not give up on child number three. He has a big personality and would positively flourish in clown college. 

Unfortunately, he has his sights set on a place in Ohio right now due to something he saw on YouTube. I’m hoping there is a great clown college program that we can afford in six more years. I’m sure there will be an app for that. But I doubt it will be very fun.

More Great Reading:

Turns Out I Had No Idea How Hard it Is to Parent Teens

About Jen LarsenFortner

Jen Fortner lives in Minnesota with her husband, three children and the best dog on earth.  She has a MSW degree that never gets used other than to diagnose family members at holiday gatherings. She has a blog at where she tells stories about her family that they never read.

Read more posts by Jen

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