College then, college now


In the summer of 1979, I took a couple days off my factory job in Green Bay and ventured to Minneapolis with a friend of mine to register for classes – on paper – to start college at the University of MN that fall. When Welcome Week rolled around, my parents drove 6 hours with me and my stuff, unloaded the car, promptly turned around and made the lonely voyage home. I’m sure it was very difficult for them to leave me in a strange, big city on my own with nothing but trust and faith in me.

Fast forward a few years – I recently attended Orientation with my middle son, Ben, an extremely bright young man starting at the University of MN-Minneapolis this fall in the rigorous College of Science and Engineering. A full day and half of meetings and presentations all about the U, all the resources available, campus life, online registration, meeting with advisers, connecting with other students, etc. Going to college is now a family affair.

Parents of our generation consider it absolutely necessary to be with their child every step of the journey from choosing a college, registering for the best classes, getting the best professors, the best grades. It’s just the logical next step from being involved parents when we scheduled their play dates, registered for dance classes, attended their sports events, met with their teachers, drove them to all their necessary destinations and generally made sure they had a totally enriching and full childhood.

The U of MN has bent over backwards to help smooth the transition and identify resources for any struggle or challenge that comes up. The parent meetings at Orientation stressed how to cope with the student’s sudden coping with new life skills, handling their own schedule, making their appointments, making their own friends and dealing with triple the homework load without having the comfort of being at home. They even had psychologists on hand with advice for us on how to deal with the range of emotions everybody is feeling as the college student moves out, the homework demands of a Top Ten college, possible break-ups in relationships and being in a self-contained city of 50,000+ students. The U of MN even has it’s own police force – and gave a great presentation on the safety programs in place. From a parents’ perspective, it’s very comforting to know that my son won’t be just thrown in the deep end and expected to instantly swim. Yet there’s also enough slack to empower the students to get a chance to be on their own and make their own decisions.

Back in 1979, I was the quiet, shy, homebody least likely to leave. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the terror and the exhilaration of being on my own. I remember the pangs of sadness when I was homesick. My older outgoing sisters went out of state to college and were back in Green Bay within a year. But I finished and stayed. I look back and am still amazed that I did OK on my own here in Minneapolis.

When taking a risk, how much of a safety net do you need?