With my kids ( a sophomore and a senior in high school), the reality of college funding has loomed on the horizon for us for some time.
With multiple deployments, layoffs and medical emergencies, just the thought of college for my kids has been depressing. They have amazing grades and goals in life. They both have big plans for useful careers someday. John and I were Liberal Arts majors. And neither of us work in any field we studied. What were we thinking.
Our kids? Much more practical. They both want engineering.
Our son has built complex machine structures since he was 18 months old. I remember the day he built his first. We had just found a thick plastic version of Tinker Toys (for toddlers) for him. And in the living room floor, our toddling baby built a giant complex geometric-like structure with every piece in the box. Even demanding to be picked up to be able to place the last pieces – you know, because the structure was taller than him.
John and I just gaped and stared at him and each other. “Oh my god…” we quietly whispered to each other with worried expressions. “What do we do?” Having competed in national mathematics in middle school, and having a father who’s a genius in electronics, I can kind of follow our son’s brain, but only a bit.
And that was only the beginning. On into his school years, he was the kid the teacher was frustrated with – building spaceships out of paperclips and pencils, instead of paying attention to the lesson. Thing was, he really had a knack for it. They really did look like spaceships. Every oddball scrap of something he found could become a part for some creation of his. “But Mommy,” he’d complain when I talked to him about paying attention in class, “the pictures in my head won’t stop. I have to get them out.”
Legos came along and they became his next go to for invention. And while he’d sometimes build the kits as they were designed, usually he instead turned all the parts into new things, generating ideas I would never have thought of. Occasionally I’d get a note from school – he’d been caught with Legos in class again. The pictures in his head didn’t stop and his inventions became more and more detailed and complex. He’d run out of parts before he could get a new design completely down. Scrapping other brilliant designs he’d already made, he’d recycle them for the sake of whatever kept him awake at night. I tried to get photos, but he’d claim they weren’t perfected enough, or he’d recycle them faster than I could try to get to them. I’d scramble to find garage sales and eBay lots where I could get him more pieces cheaply enough.
I knew something amazing was taking place for him, but for a long time I worried my son would forsake the ideas of college for Legos. I even called the Lego company in desperation once, when he was 11. I asked them if they had scholarships or programs for kids, or SOMETHING. Because I wasn’t sure my son would ever go to college if Lego wasn’t involved somehow. They didn’t know how to take my queries. As his friends stopped really caring about Legos and building models, his interest only deepened and intensified.
And then I met a local adult Lego enthusiast group, made up of engineers who all love and build with Lego. They often get together to share creations, do charity projects and build giant structures for events like SXSW. And I learned that some engineering classes actually teach with Legos, and that apparently it’s a great way to help think about building complex structures. That some people prototype with them. And I heard a bunch of other stuff that went over my head. I remember the first time we attended one of their gatherings and I watched my son speak a whole different language – with people just like him. They understood him perfectly! They spoke on the same level! He’d found his people, his tribe, and they were excited to meet him and see his ideas. “Do you have any idea how brilliant [his creation] is?” one of them commented privately to me once. Yeah, I think I do. That kind of thing has kept me awake at night for years.
I stopped worrying about him after that. In fact, I think he’ll love college. And graduate school.
Our daughter… she’s ambitious. She loves drawing, writing and costuming, as you’ll know if you follow her blog. She volunteers, works as a teacher’s assistant, studies martial arts. She’s the kid who first makes every new kid feel welcome. She’s the comic who breaks the tension in the room, loved by little kids and teachers alike, and coveted by everyone who gets to work with her. Since she was born, people have been drawn to her sunny disposition. “Do you have any idea how different your daughter is? How capable and talented?” people would ask. As if I had no idea and wasn’t appreciative enough. Yeah. I think I do. That’s why she’s in an accelerated charter school environment. So they can keep up with her.
But her main goals in life? Well… Engineering. She was angry when the NASA space shuttle program was cut. She wants to design machines that solve problems, put together teams of geniuses to change the future and own her own space company some day. She also figures she might hire her brother some day, if he ever stops teasing her. She’s the kind of kid who’s always taken education seriously. From the time in 2nd grade when she decided to pull out a higher grade science book to study instead of doing her math assignment in class, because she felt the assignment was boring, pointless and a waste of her time.
She’s carefully orchestrated her direction in education for the last 10 years on her own. I’ve never pushed, except to organize her time when we had family things to worry about. She’s strong in all her core subjects. And school has always comes pretty easily to her. Studying has come easy to her. I was considered a genius kid, but I hated studying. It was an unpleasant necessity for me. But my daughter’s religious about it – and enjoys it. Religious about her papers. I remember when she was invited to take high school language classes early because her grade performance was so high in middle school. And she came home with an 84%. She’d finally found a subject that was hard for her and she bawled for hours. It was not the kind of emotional upset I ever expected to deal with as a parent, let me tell you.
You see my dilemma…
It’d be one thing if my kids had no goals or direction in life or hated school. If they had no idea what they wanted to do and be when they grow up. But that’s not the case. They’ve always been pretty clear on it. Even strategically choosing their high school classes based on their future goals – without our input, I might add.
What’s a mom to do? Getting into college, much less funding it, is way different from when I was going to school. And I’ve struggled with having the time to help them figure any of it out. I work every spare hour I can.
And today the whole process for everything’s online too, and not necessarily well-organized. It practically feels like you need a degree just to understand all the things you need to do and when. There’s funding available, but you have to do everything just so. With last year’s layoff after my fall, I was afraid my kids were on their own to go into deep debt, and would be stuck over-working just to try and make it in this world themselves. I didn’t want that. I went through that in college. It was awful. And no amount of scholarships I earned helped enough. Landing in the hospital after trying to hold down 3 jobs and a full college schedule taught me a lot about limitations. And wisdom. Not to mention long-term consequences. I was the whiz kid with the excellent grades once too. But I was on my own with no support system, overworking myself to survive and work through college. It’s the opposite extreme of the coddled college kids you always hear about. I nearly died. For degrees that didn’t pay off. There’s no way I’m letting my kids make the same mistakes.
I found hope and help.
I met a guy named Ryan Thomson, whose expertise is all about navigating the college funding waters, at least in the United States. And in many ways, he’s like a college application/funding coach. And I can’t tell you just how thankful I am for him now. And for the peace of mind coming into our lives.
Some of the families from our school have used him in past years and were really happy with his help. It took awhile, but we finally had a meeting with Ryan, and signed up for his help. It’s like hiring a tax expert, only this guy has nearly 18 years of college funding expertise. He works for people from every walk of life and income level. And he has an on staff college/career counselor too, who is so very helpful. The dedicated attention has been wonderful for our graduating daughter who needed help finding the right places to get everything she wants – both Engineering and Business.
And for the first time, I have hope. My kids are going to college. They won’t be hurt by their parents’ lack of ability to financially help out. Or our lack of knowledge about what they need or want to do. I don’t have to worry about the funding or the process to find it anymore.
Ryan’s given us a ton of resources. While he works on all the grant type stuff, he encourages the student to pursue whatever scholarships they can. There are a lot of small scholarships that can help pay for some things. And every bit helps.
Good websites to visit for financial help and more information are:
http://www.fafsa.ed.gov (This form is pretty much required for all financial aid.)
http://www.fastweb.com (scholarships – tons of them)
Ryan gives a lot of free advice in the consultation, as well as in free talks he gives at schools all over the Austin area. Advice anyone can use, whether they choose to sign up for his help or not. I like that a lot.
But if you’re like us – not sure how to navigate all the demands of college applications and funding, etc.. If you’re short on time. If you want to be sure that your student gets good support and help to make better choices for their future, because it can matter. Or you find that either your school lacks adequate career counseling for your student, or adequate help in navigating the process… Then you might want to talk to our guy too. It’s an investment that I had no trouble committing to. Even while money is tight. Some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
Ryan works with anyone anywhere in the US and he gives you a free upfront consultation so he can explain anything he needs to. And between the two of you, you can decide if he can help. His fee is reasonable and it covers the ENTIRE FAMILY – no matter how many kids you have.
Plus, I had no idea it was possible, but he can help anyone find funding for graduate degrees!! I didn’t think that sort of thing existed. He can help grown people go back to college if need be. It’s wonderful. And my kids, once they’ve finished their BA’s, they can continue with his services on their own. I mean, it’s just almost too good to be true. Except it is true. It’s a really wonderful feeling knowing we have someone in our corner to help us navigate these unfamiliar waters.
So I’m going to share his info with you. It’s worth considering, even if your kid is already in college. If you do talk to Ryan, do tell him I sent you. Not only will you get a discount, but it’ll help us in the future too. After 3 referrals, the rest of our membership fees are waved. We’re definitely down with that.
However, I want to make it clear – I recommend Ryan only because I am truly, truly impressed. And because I think he can help anyone struggling with this like we have. And I’m impressed with his knowledge, professionalism, and organization – as in he’s streamlined the process and created a system to make it easy for us to be organized too. Not to mention, I’m impressed with his staff and the UNLIMITED support.
College Funding Specialists
Go check out his site. Get a free consult. Learn what you don’t know. Our school counselor had Ryan out for free talks to our teachers and parents. And even he said he’s learned things he had no idea about before. Even school counselors cannot keep up with the volume of students they serve, as well as the nuances and shifts in the funding environment. Get the free info. You can even get on Ryan’s free newsletter too. Just let him know you’re interested. You want someone who truly is an expert, has the connections, can counsel you wisely and help you and your student navigate the waters. And this guy gives so much with no obligation too.
So that’s it. That’s my golden goose. My kids are going to make it. And I couldn’t be more thankful.