WEEKENDER | Mon, 09/27/2010 12:27 PM |
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“I don’t want to go back to Washington. I want to go to boarding school,” my 15-year-old daughter declared over the phone not too long ago.
She was away at a summer philosophy course and her statement was not so much a plea as a demand. While my instinctive retort would have been “are you nuts!?”, I restrained myself, offering instead a polite, less harsh and more motherly “Where is this coming from?”
My daughter’s dissatisfaction – let’s call her Dyah for the sake of semi-anonymity – has actually been an ongoing issue since we moved her from an international school in Egypt to a public high school in a fairly isolated small town in Washington state.
Simply, Dyah is dissatisfied with the level of instruction at her current school. At first, my husband and I put it down to challenges inherent in relocating to a new environment, but as weeks and months went by and Dyah’s unhappiness continued unabated, we discovered that the quality of instruction did indeed leave much to be desired. We also discovered that we were not the only parents aware of the situation.
Along with half a dozen other parents, we pulled our children out from one particular class and independently arranged an external substitute class taught by a newly minted PhD. With no private schools available, that was the only solution other than home schooling.
This is just one example of how parents (I am Indonesian, my husband American), wherever they are in the world, cope and find alternative solutions when schools do not meet expectations. We become proactive in finding support and solutions. Another example is one very wealthy parent of my daughter’s student cohort in Jakarta; she (and many other parents) was so dissatisfied with the management of the school that she decided the only viable solution was to establish another school. She did so. That was more than 15 years ago; since then the school has flourished and obtained international school status, and graduates continue on to reputable universities worldwide.
Our children have experienced formal education in several places: Jakarta, Denpasar, New Jersey, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Washington state, New Zealand, Cairo, Vancouver, Berkeley and Wales. I cannot say that any one region provides better education than the others, because, in retrospect, we each benefited from whatever our education gave us, regardless of whether it was objectively better or worse than any other person’s education experience.
So when friends and family ask me for advice about going to school in the United States, I always emphasize that it really depends on what the student is looking for, what program he/she is interested in and what kind if budget is involved.
Some suffer from the misconception that as long as the university is world renowned, then all will be well. Invoke the name Harvard University or MIT and you can bet many, if not most, Indonesians would jump at the chance of attending. But there are all sorts of organizations and systems for ranking universities in the States. Princeton Review even ranks universities by party schools (this year University of Georgia is at number one, for readers who are curious). So when looking at university rankings, be mindful of the ranking criteria, the respondents assessing the given criteria and the way data are analyzed.
University rankings are one thing, but getting in is a whole different matter altogether. Each department or school in a university has its own admission criteria and its own program focus. It behooves both parents and prospective students to look carefully at the criteria and academic focus and consider whether there is a match or not.
With university admissions becoming more competitive each year and tuition rates increasingly becoming prohibitive for many families, planning is critical. In many cases, this involves years of planning not only for finances, but also to map a strategy for building a solid application résumé. Although in some countries, grade point average (GPA) and/or national exam scores are the only consideration for undergraduate admission, in the United States, most universities give weight to other things as well, such as the personal statement, community service experience, sporting achievements and extracurricular activities. In top-tiered universities, great Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Testing (ACT) scores as well as consistently high GPAs are merely the starting point for admission consideration, so competition becomes tighter and students work harder to build a sterling résumé. Throw in the costs of tuition, books, food, accommodation, transportation and health insurance over the course of four years and you will have some idea of the financial stress parents and students face in financing and repaying student loans, just to get a bachelor’s degree.
As for my unhappy daughter, we have another two years to work on building her résumé for college; the process will no doubt require a lot of consoling, encouragement and guidance to get her into the university of her choice. In the meantime, I have a son who is three years away from applying to colleges and a 21-year-old who is two years away from applying to graduate schools. Although my husband and I are both in academia, I think I will have to draw on my inner strength and my medicine cabinet to get me through the next three years!