As a bumper crop of teenagers makes its way through high school, many parents and grandparents are losing sleep over getting them into college. A good college education probably tops the list of hopes and dreams your clients have for their children. But this pressure, inside and outside the family, can lead to emotional and financial challenges that
try your expertise. Here are some ways to maintain a more balanced perspective.
Q: After my clients’ son graduates from high school, his grandfather has offered to pay for four years at his Ivy League alma mater. The boy would rather enroll in an engineering school. Having the grandfather’s financial help would make a big difference to my clients, who are not wealthy. They also like the idea of the connections their son could make at the Ivy League school. They’ve asked for my advice.
A: It’s not unusual for clients to have aspirations like these for their offspring. But learning to widen their perspective beyond their own personal wishes to encompass the child’s desires is a crucial part of good parenting — and grandparenting, too.
To help resolve the situation with a maximum of good will, I would consider interviewing all three generations. With a deeper grasp of their individual perspectives, you’ll find it easier to help them sort out the best solution. For example, how does your client feel about the conditions placed on this offer? Does he think Grandpa should be willing to pay (or help pay) for whatever school the boy chooses?
Find out what fuels the grandfather’s desires for his grandson. How deeply is he attached to the young man following in his footsteps? Does he hope to see him enter the same profession as well?
How about the grandson himself? If he fears his academic record is not good enough, he may be reluctant to apply to his grandfather’s college out of fear of rejection. Or is he convinced that the other school is truly a better fit for him?
If the engineering school seems the best choice to you and your client, you might help him draft a letter that outlines the reasons and asks for Grandpa’s understanding. The letter could also appeal to the grandfather’s higher nature by inviting him to put his financial support behind his grandson’s education, even though the boy may choose a different path in life than his own.
Q: My clients, an immigrant couple, have set their hearts on sending their only daughter to a top college. They’re convinced this kind of education is vital for her to succeed. However, I don’t see how they can afford it, and her grades aren’t good enough to qualify for scholarships. My analysis will be a tremendous blow to them. How can I help them handle it?
A: Many parents are ready to sacrifice their own financial future for their children’s higher education. In some cultures, it’s the expected thing to do. The assumption may be that the kids will take care of them in their penurious old age — a somewhat shaky possibility these days.
A prudent advisor will help these clients scale back their unrealistic expectations and offer them other options. This is bound to deflate the parents, though, and may well make them blame themselves for failing to provide for their children’s future. Thus, you need to proceed with great compassion, patience, and concern.
In the situation you describe, communicating the realities of your clients’ financial position may be one of the most painful things you’ll ever have to do. I would urge you to soften the blow with statistics showing that success in later life is not correlated to a diploma from a big-name school. Perhaps you know a personal anecdote or two about young people who now lead productive and satisfying professional lives, even though their families couldn’t afford to send them to a top college.