I won’t swear to it, but I think I now know why T.S. Eliot wrote what he did in the opening lines to his epic poem “The Waste Land.”
“April is the cruelest month, breeding // lilacs out of the dead land, mixing // memory and desire, stirring // dull roots with spring rain.”
I’m convinced Eliot had a high-schooler in the house trying to figure out college.
“And I will show you something different from either // Your shadow at morning striding behind you // Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”
C’mon, you don’t see it?
May has its stress with final exams, and June is full of anxiety over summer jobs. But April? April is a time of decisions, when our little flowers poke their heads up from their nestled grounds and stretch toward the warming sun … if that warming sun had a beautiful quad with a $70,000-a-year buy-in.
For the last several months now, our seniors have been scrambling to:
▪ Write college admissions essays. “Name a peer who’s influenced your life.” “Tell us how you’d change the world.” My answer — “end vague pompous college essay questions” — would probably not get me far.
▪ Fill out financial aid forms. “Dad, what’s our 2017 AGI?” Like I keep that number on the top of my head.
▪ Outline how they’ve spent the past four years.
It is easy for me to jest, but our sons and daughters have been sweating this out. They’ve had to listen to us and their teachers drill into them since they could remember about doing well in school “so you’ll get into a good college.”
While the pressure has been on, it’s getting turned up to 11 this month because it’s what the kids all know as “commitment month.” Most of the schools have a deadline of May 1 to notify them of whether you’re coming or not. So for students like my daughter, who have had multiple offers to weigh, this has been pick-your-future-alma-mater month.
In a way, I envy her. I did not have this level of decision-making. I lived in Florida during high school. Since I knew I wanted to study journalism, I applied to the University of Florida, home to one of the best such programs in the nation. A couple of months after applying, I got in. End of story.
Loreleigh and her peers have not had it that easy. Chief among their concerns has been the economics of their decision. I know college was not cheap when I attended in the ’80s, but if you’ve had the “pleasure” of dealing with college costs lately, it’s just flat-out stupefying.
Our years of stressing a good college education has been taken to heart by higher education, which has attached premium prices to everything. The all-in annual cost for most North Carolina state schools today is about $20,000 or a bit more.
That is considered “affordable.” Kids getting accepted to the big names are looking at annual undergraduate costs of $60,000 and up. Without any meaningful financial aid or scholarships, children who have acceptance letters to premier universities are faced with saying “no thank you” or accepting life-altering debt. And if choosing the latter, 17-year-olds are making a decision that will affect the career they choose, the car the drive, the house they can afford, and even when to marry and start a family.
Long term, this is not sustainable. Student loan debt today is second only to mortgage debt at $1.5 trillion. The average student debt load is more than $37,000. North Carolina ranks 10th in the nation for student loan debt with $38.2 billion owed.
So after stressing over getting into a college, the kids are now stressing over paying for a college, leaving them to quietly wonder if we all have not become, in some way, an April fool.