DD really wants to... go to Harvard?! How to deal with this without crushing her ambition?

(76 Posts)
SophiaN Wed 21-Mar-12 02:39:11

My 15yo daughter has always been academically ambitious. She has a reasonable level of academic aptitude - straight As across the board, taking exams early, near the top of her school - and is generally considered a little swotty but bright. (She's easily bored, which can also affect her performance, and quite sickly - I think she would otherwise do very well at school, but that's besides the point.) For most of her childhood, she wanted to go to Oxford, but three years ago, when we went to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she fell in love with Harvard. She was drawn to the comparative diversity and the liberal arts/breadth of subjects aspect (they read several courses, not just one). I've been doing my utmost to draw her back, as I think it would be inconvenient, not to mention dangerous, to have my daughter go to university abroad.

I thought I'd won. However, a few days ago she came downstairs with a printout of a Scholastic Aptitude Test mock exam result sheet, in high spirits, pestering me to let her take the real SAT in May because she did well on the online mock, therefore it wouldn't be a waste of time or money. A few days before, she wouldn't shut up about the Fulbright Commission and how the "current special relationship shtick" might lead to more UK-US scjolarship opportunities by 2015 over the dinner table. Last week, she was waxing lyrical about a former US politician she'd met at a political conference the week before who'd discussed the Ivies with her and given her the address of somebody at the Harvard Club of the UK, whom she's been badgering for advice ever since. She emails and occasionally telephones a former Harvard admissions interviewer and a former fellow of one of its postgraduate schools on a daily basis, both of whom have the impression that her family support her idea. I have no idea where she met them or how she got them to speak to her. With her friends and family in America on Skype or over the phone, she acts as if she's just waiting for the admissions decision. She has some sort of pact with her cousin in Connecticut to get into the same societies "when" they're at Harvard together. I tried to bring her around with a patriotic argument, but she told me that she was coming back to Britain after her first degree and doing a postgraduate degree at Oxford, because she'll miss England, and "Oxford is better for depth but Harvard is better for breadth, and [I] want breadth first, then depth". She claims I'm being paranoid, that she'll be 18 and will be able to look after herself, and that the ages of drinking and consent are higher Stateside anyway. That isn't what concerns me; I'm concerned by the idea of being quite that far away from my daughter should there be an emergency. She has a handful of physical and a dusting of mental health issues. She makes some quite compelling academic arguments for it, but I simply wouldn't have peace of mind with it.

I know this sounds like something to nurture or perhaps gently redirect - there are many worse obsessions for a teenage girl than a highly regarded university. Laid down in writing, it sounds as if there's nothing wrong with her , and I would feel such an ogre decreeing that "you must not dedicate time to your academic future!". I feel as if there's so much in her Harvard endeavours that I should be encouraging - academic zeal, decisiveness, enterprising thinking, independence, courage, determination... I simply don't know how to politely but firmly let her know that she is not going to university, at least as an undergraduate, abroad. I want to say no, but I certainly don't want to squash all acade,ic ambition out of her. I think her academic ambition is admirable, and something I would love to have had at her age... simply misguided. What should I tell her? Should I leave it and hope she sees sense herself?

LeBOF Wed 21-Mar-12 02:53:10

She'll be an adult then though- you don't really get to dictate what is too dangerous or not. Why would you want to put yourself in the position of being the person who forever foiled her dreams? What's the harm in letting her have a bash? At least if she doesn't get in, she won't blame her mother for scuppering her chances.

Naoko Wed 21-Mar-12 02:57:13

I know this is not what you want to hear, and I'm not a mum of teens (or a mum at all!) so I accept you may not value my input, but I think you are very wrong to forbid her going abroad as an undergrad for the simple reason that you do not want her to. If you cannot afford it, or you think she were not academically able of Getting into Harvard, there might be some sense in discouraging her. However, that is not what you're saying - you're saying she can't do it because she's not allowed to be that far away from you and you wouldn't have peace of mind. I'm afraid that, harsh as that may sound, once she is 18 and an adult, that's not a valid argument.

For what it's worth, I did this thing you're daughter is considering that you will not even ponder actually happening. two weeks after my 18th birthday I went away to university in a foreign country, on my own, knowing no one and speaking the local language well but not fluently. like your daughter, I have physical issues, and less than two years before going, I had been suicidal depressed and delusional.

It was the best thing I ever did. I know my mum hated the idea - in fact, the first thing she said when I first brought it up was 'no way', like you are. she came round, though, and although to this daft she hates that I am far from her (which is normal! She's my mum, she loves me and she worries) she is happy that I'm happy, as is my dad. I had a fantastic university experience and I'm thankful to them for giving me the opportunity and the vote of confidence.

I think the latter is what you need to do - give your daughter a vote of confidence. She sounds great, academically able, knowing what she wants and Getting in touch with the right people to make it happen. She will be an adult soon, and independent. By saying that she's not allowed to be far away from you, you're telling her that you don't trust her to cope and that you think she's not an adult. I don't think that's right. if she's doing this well you've obviously done something right raising her, so trust to the lasting effect of those 18 years and let her stand on her own feet.

Naoko Wed 21-Mar-12 02:59:31

Apologies for odd word substitutions there. Can't sleep, amon my phone in bed, and autocorrect is laughing at me.hmm

nooka Wed 21-Mar-12 03:04:49

I think that you are worrying about something that is quite along way off to be honest. By the time that she needs to take real decisions about her future she will be a couple of years older, and may well have either changed her mind or be much more mature and your worries may not seem so relevant.

I'd try and stay non committal and just talk about keeping her options open. Is cost a consideration? You might get her to think abut funding. Many North American children (we live in Canada now) have college funds where they save a good proportion of their earnings, so that might be one way to ground her expectations.

I'd also think about how much of a problem it would really be for her to go to university in Boston. I went to university in the UK but it was a seven hours drive away from home, flying out to the East Coast (assuming that money isn't an issue) would not take very much longer. Plus it sounds as if you have family relatively locally, so again this may not be as much of an issue as you are assuming right now.

Starwisher Wed 21-Mar-12 03:05:01

I think your daughter sounds amazing! I wish I had even been 10% as focused and ambitious as her at such a young age. She is so proactive and thoughtful.

Seriously you want to squash these dreams and passions? I will be thrilled if my young daughters grow up like this

You mention she has a cousin in the USA so surely this is a great comfort your dd will be near family?

Also, do you actually live in Oxford? If your daughter did attend there would you actually be only a stone throw away?

I feel you are clipping a butterflies wings.

She sounds a bit over obsessed by it all TBH. does she usually get fixated on things when they seize her?

tribpot Wed 21-Mar-12 06:00:37

God, when I opened this I imagined she had watched Legally Blonde and convinced herself all she needed to do to get into Harvard Law School was doing a cracking video essay featuring herself in a sequinned bikini smile

Leaving aside the academic aspect, when she's 18 if your dd decides she wants to go and live in Cambridge, Mass - or Cambridge, Cambs - she can do. She seems to acknowledge that she will need to seek scholarship funding to make it a reality and I think you would have a valid argument to make about costs. (NB if she really wants to study abroad, have you seen the recent stuff in the news about Dutch Universities? The same article mentions a rise in interest in studying in the US). You can't stop her, although you can stop the funding.

I would imagine there is a fair degree of support for overseas students, in terms of helping them manage being so far away from family for the first time. It probably wouldn't occur to her to research this, but you could have a look? And she will have family there as well?

I completely understand that you are daunted that your little bird is starting to spread her wings and get ready to fly away. But if she is determined enough, she will go. Best of luck to you both.

Am I misunderstanding that you have family over there already? It sounded as if she would have a support network of some kind if she's already making such contacts and plans.

It's an amazing ambition. How can it harm her to aim so high?

I suspect that if she succeeds, that she will like many of us have a period of major readjustment, but Cambridge is beautiful and she would have an experience that would undoubtedly set her apart from her cohort when it comes to employment.

There is that really cliched saying 'We exist to give our children roots and wings'. You've obviously given her great roots, seems like time to let her spread her wings...

Iggly Wed 21-Mar-12 06:20:09

I was a bit sad to see you describe her as reasonably academic yet straights As etc sounds like she's very academic?! What would be very academic in your eyes?

Have you asked her present school what they think ? If she's only 15 I presu me she hasn't done her GCSEs yet,has she decided on her A Levels? My daughter spent a year abroad in the US as part of her degree and had an amazing time and although I had many reservations I never considered her not going. I think with your daughter I would be more concerned that she is so focussed on what she wants to do that she is failing to consider that she might not get the place she wants ,does she have a back up plan? My friends daughter always wanted to go to Cambridge and got the grades but she didn't get a place competition was fierce and demand for places was obviously high. She had become so focussed on Cambridge that she hadn't given any thought to a back up plan and in fact is now taking her 4th' gap year' while she decides what to do instead, all her friends are at the end of their university courses and she hasn't yet started and tbh I doubt she ever will. There is nothing wrong with having high ambitions but my concern would be that whilst totally fixating on this she is not considering any alternatives.

flow4 Wed 21-Mar-12 07:50:50

Sounds like a great idea for her, if a difficult idea for you.

Practically, if she's bright and hard-working enough, it's achievable. There was a programme on radio 4 a couple of weeks ago, about kids going to study abroad. Harvard was one of the places they talked about: there's lots of support, and for kids who get scholarships, it can actually be cheaper than a UK university education now is, partly because some scholarships include accommodation.

I went off to Singapore for a year when I was 20, as part of my degree, and then spent 5 months travelling round Asia... It was an absolutely terrifying prospect, and the year in Singapore was not one of my happiest, but it was important: it helped make me resourceful and independent and it honed my problem-solving skills, and it made me realise - long-term - how important my friendship and support networks were to me.

By 18, your daughter will be 'breaking free' of you and beginning to shape her adult life. That's probably as hard for you as it is for her. Maybe harder. If she really wants to do this, then you'll need to be brave about it!

knackeredknees Wed 21-Mar-12 07:56:42

I don't think you should stand in her way either. 2 girls from my son's year are going through the Ivy League process, at the moment and one's already been accepted. It's easier to get into American unis, even IL ones, as their entry criteria are lower than Oxbridge.

I agree with the others that she'll always hold it against you if you stop her. She will be an adult and she has to be allowed to make her own decisions. Just make sure you have excellent medical insurance in place for her.

Crocodilio Wed 21-Mar-12 07:57:17

You sound very dismissive of her achievements and efforts, and in no way proud of her, why is that?

You don't get to decide if she is misguided academically and you shouldn't try to choose her university for her.

If this sounds harsh I apologise but you sound over involved. When I went to university 20+ years ago parents didn't even come to open days - it's only in the last few years have I noticed how many parents there are thinking that they are choosing their childs course.

If she has some 'light' mental health issues they will be very well managed over there - American universities have a much better grasp on managing mental well being than here. There is much more openness in general about seeing a psychiatrist/counsellor/psychotherapist on an ongoing basis.

Your job is to support her with HER ambitions, not yours.

NomNomNom Wed 21-Mar-12 08:43:53

If she can get a scholarship and visa sorted out by herself without any input from you, then it's likely she'd be ok on her own over there. But she won't be on her own completely if she has family nearby, so that's even better.

Perhaps sit down with her once she's completed yr 12 to let her tell you how her plans are progressing. By that point she'll either have changed her mind, or some obstacle will have popped up, or you'll have got used to the idea.

Fwiw, I went to uni in a different European country, survived fine, but met my H and now am stuck, so am sort of regretting it for that reason as it'll be difficult to go home again.

The5thFishy Wed 21-Mar-12 08:53:08

She is capable and she could go to Harvard. There are scholarships for the brightest. Why aren't you supporting her? Are you jealous?

cory Wed 21-Mar-12 09:03:47

The only way you should have a say on this is if she is expecting you to pay for it- and to pay more than if she went to university in this country. She will be an adult by then- and that includes taking responsibility for the management of her own mental health issues (if any).

I have a dd with physical and mental health issues whose dream is to go to drama school and try for a career on the stage. I have no idea if this is a sensible decision for someone in her position. But I do know that it will not be my decision.

fwiw even if she did go to a British university, they are encouraged to spend a year abroad- at least we are working hard on this- so you might well find she shoots off to China or somewhere, just when you thought you had her safely ensconced in her Cambridge college.

My FIL spent a lot of time and energy trying to dissuade dh from an unwise career choice. It made no difference apart from causing a strain in their relationship which lasted for years. Dh has been happy with the same firm for the last 30 years: his brother who made a wise choice in the eyes of his father has been in and out of jobs and never really found one he's been happy with.

Your inconvenience and peace of mind shouldn't really count here. She will be leading her own life wherever she does it.

mummytime Wed 21-Mar-12 09:23:51

Sorry your post was so long but why the heck wouldn't you let her go? If you are worried about the fees, well Harvard has great scholarships and they pay out to a much higher level of parental income than UK ones, they also help her find employment to help cover the remaining costs.
Its only about a 6 hour flight to Boston, and it takes at least 7 hours from London to Aberdeen by train.
If she wants to go, and will work for it then don't step in her way.
She does also need to apply to UK unis as a back up, but studying and sitting the SAT will do her no harm (and UK unis will be interested in the results).

GnomeDePlume Wed 21-Mar-12 12:28:12

Have to agree with all the others. Why are you wanting to stand in her way? I will be actually encouraging my DD to consider courses either abroad or with a strong international element.

That international element to her education will help her CV stand out in years to come.

At the end of the day it simply wont be your choice, it will be hers.

SIL did a degree at an english university - got a first - then did a MA at Harvard and got a scholarship (as otherwise would cost £££s). You really need her to look into scholarships if she's determined to study in the US. I was interested in that also at 16 - then I looked into the costings, the scholarships (people from around the world are applying for those so really high competition) and decided UK unis were the way to go. But I did sit the SATs and got high scores as a back up.

jeee Wed 21-Mar-12 12:37:51

At 15 a teenager should have dreams and ambitions. Most of them won't come off. If she's prepared to do the necessary additional work to apply, you should encourage her.

I think you must let her apply - but you should also warn her she might well be rejected, by Harvard, Oxford, and many other highly sought after universities. And if she is, it doesn't reflect badly on her.

If you try to prevent her having a shot at this, she will resent you in the future.

coppertop Wed 21-Mar-12 12:37:54

I know that boasting isn't the done thing on MN but your OP seems to have swung too far in the opposite direction. It's as though you don't have anything positive to say about her at all.

She sounds like a bright girl who has the drive and ambition to do very well indeed. She not only knows where she would like to go but has also independently got off her backside to find out what it would be like there and how to make her dreams a reality.

It's extremely selfish to expect another adult to give up their dreams and ambitions just because you "simply wouldn't have peace of mind with it."

jennifersofia Wed 21-Mar-12 13:42:47

I agree with everyone else, help her with her dreams. I can't imagine how scary it must be to have any child going away to any university, but I am not quite sure how it would be more dangerous at Harvard than a university here.
I think children do need to go away from their parents in order to grow up and individuate, and in some cases, leaving their country aids this process.

WMDinthekitchen Wed 21-Mar-12 14:03:42

Sorry, I haven't had time to read through the whole thread. A friend's daughter was at Harvard and had the time of her life. Have you contacted the university to find out about the medical and pastoral care services that will be available?

Your daughter may change enormously in the next three years. She could go to university in the UK and be hundreds of miles away. Ask yourself and give a truthful reply, is your intention really to keep her for your own benefit?

Her attitude to forward planning is admirable. She will be an adult in three years time and she has high but seemingly realistic and thoroughly laudable aims. It would surely be better for her (if a very difficult prospect for you) to try to achieve her ambition with your support. At times we all, as parents, have to realise that we will not have peace of mind for a variety of reasons (first g/bfriend, choice of exam courses, first job, leaving home, getting married - there are endless other situations). We just have to bear it and get on with life.

Hard for you, but the best of luck to your daughter. If you try to stop her she could be very resentful and it may damage your relationship. Harvard has an international office for students from overseas - why not encourage your daughter to get in touch or do so yourself although it might be rather early to do so. www.hio.harvard.edu/ There is also a Host Program, where local people befriend overseas students and assist them when they arrive, helping them deal with living in the States etc. Such an arrangement might help both of you.

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