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?

UTR Wed 21-Mar-12 14:03:50

Hi Sophia

In my opinion, (and please forgive me for using the most cheesy expression) you must let her follow her dream. You must not be the one who holds her back because:

(a) it would be a dreadful shame for her - what if she IS capable of getting a place?

(b) it would be TERRIBLE for your relationship - she may blame you forever for sabotaging her life

I've got three points to make:

1. I hear that you are concerned that she has unrealistic expectations ("when we're at Harvard") and it is sensible to address this. Explain to her that not every bright little button gets into Oxbridge and Ivy League - it often depends on which course you apply to (some are MUCH more competitive than others) and in the case of Oxbridge which college. She does need to know that, although she is considered to be amongst the very brightest at her school, Harvard is a world-class institution and she will be competing for a place at a global level. She may well have what it takes, and we cannot know unless she tries, but you can just make her aware that she has to be clear that whilst she must give this her best shot, there are no guarantees for anyone and some extraordinary and brilliant people have been rejected by these top institutions - sometimes, even, it's the making of them. Tell her the deal is that you will be back her all the way in her ambition to go to Harvard but there HAS to be a back-up plan - either she applies to some UK universities or makes some rudimentary plans for a gap year or whatever. Tell her it's always good to have a "Plan B" in case things don't work out the way we would like.

2. I hear that you are worried about her being so far away. Join the club - this is true for all of us. There are Mums in Devon whose kids are at uni in Scotland and vice versa. You'll deal with it; we all have to. If I were in your shoes, I'd be honest with her. I'd tell her that if she goes to Harvard I would worry about her being so far away but that she is a bright, ambitious and hard-working girl and that it is your job to support her flight towards a fabulous and independent future and that you are very proud of her for aiming high.

3. I hope you can help and support her her while she goes through the research and application process because, in addition to everything else that has been said, whatever the outcome, you can only win:

(a) If she gets a place then it's the right place for her and she will appreciate that you supported and encouraged her.

(b) If she does not get a place, then it just wasn't meant to be. You will sympathise with her, love her and help pick up the pieces and remind her that there is a better path out there for her. Since the outcome is nothing to do with you and she will have nothing to reproach you for.

Either way, the most important thing is that you consolidate a loving supportive relationship with your soon-to-be-an-adult child.

Good luck to her.

exaspomum Wed 21-Mar-12 14:53:26

I'm not being funny and I know it's not the same.....but for breadth of content could you consider the best of the scottish universities? In first year, she would study three subjects equally, possibly even a mixture of arts/humanities and sciences if she wanted.
Also has she considered from a career point of view that some specific courses at specific uni's are as highly regarded as any old course from any ivy league or russell group uni?
You could suggest that she research the content of individual courses. Some will probably be of much more interest to her than others regardless of the particular university offering them.

GrungeBlobPrimpants Wed 21-Mar-12 15:41:06

Your daughter sounds terrifying!!! in a good way though smile

I totally understand you about not wanting your dd to go to university abroad (I wouldn't want mine to either, I confess) BUT I think if you say no and stand in her way it could backfire by either making her more determined than ever or damage your relationship for good. She's the one who's going to have to do the course and at 18 she is an adult and can do what she likes.

However, what does make me concerned is that she seems absolutely fixated on this and why I find the situation a bit worrying. Applying to US universities has suddenly become very fashionable and loads of people are talking about it, schools running information events etc. What's more, I get the impression that prospective students are looking at Yale/Harvard etc and all are under the impression that they stand a good chance and that there are generous financial packages available. Now, call me an old cynic but:

- these universities are already oversubscribed and will now be even more so
- everyone applying will have a string of A/A* gcses
- the competition will therefore be incredibly intense and the situation will be that many excellent candidates won't get in. A bit like Ox/Cambs really.
- is there REALLY that amount of money for international students?

What I'm saying is that it's great to have ambition, but i think it's really important to have a Plan B. What if she doesn't get in? How would she react if she's already talking about it being a given?

VivianDarkbloom Wed 21-Mar-12 15:49:07

Crikey! If I'd been that driven and single minded at 15, I'd have gone miles further in life. You should be proud. And you will be, once you can say your DD is at Harvard.

MoreBeta Wed 21-Mar-12 15:50:10

Someone got into Harvard from DSs school last year.

It is becoming more and more common for people to apply to to overseas universities overseas since UK university fees were raised.

Harvard is a fantastic university. She may drop the idea but if you try and stop her you are you are really making a rod for your own back. She will do it anyway and there is nothing you can do to stop her.

MrsArchieTheInventor Wed 21-Mar-12 15:54:01

She sounds brilliant and bright and determined to the point that even if you say no it sounds like she'll do it anyway! smile

Just so long as she understands the competition getting into a place like that, especially as a non-American, and she also appreciates the finances and practicalities of living so far away from you, then I'd say go for it and good luck to her!! smile

Brightspark1 Wed 21-Mar-12 19:58:55

DS was obsessed with getting to medical school, but with 20 people for every place, it didn't happen. No matter, it gave him a focus and a goal to strive for, he worked hard and did really well BTW straight As is more than 'reasonable aptitude'.
He is now happily doing HIS choice of course at HIS choice of uni.
Be proud of her FGS! Don't stand in her way.

"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."

How exactly are you planning on stopping her? She'll be an adult and there are far more "dangerous" places she could be living than Harvard. I understand that you do not want to be far away from her, but at some point you will have to accept that she is getting to the age when this is her decision to make.

Perhaps things will be different when she is actually applying; she will be old enough to consider the practical side more and make an informed decision about where she applies. It may seem worrying now thinking about her living on the other side of the world but they do a lot of growing up in the next couple of years.

However, she does sound absolutely fixated. When you say she has MH issues, would you be able to elaborate without outing yourself? She sounds quite obsessive about it tbh. I would be worried about what she would do if she doesn't get in (because she WILL apply, whether you like it or not).

Hopandaskip Thu 22-Mar-12 04:10:14

I agree with everyone else, caution her but let her try. What a wonderful motivator for her and she sounds very resourceful which probably means she'll do very well living abroad.

mumtolawyer Sun 25-Mar-12 20:45:52

I have read the OP a couple of times. I think that, unless you have far more serious concerns about your DD's physical and mental health than you have disclosed or indicated, that you are unjustified in trying to prevent her. Do you not respect her effort, achievement and indeed her pro-activity in finding out about it? She is still young and things may change, but simply not wanting her to be away from you could come across as selfish or jealous. She will, like it or not, be an adult and if she wants to go there is nothing you could, or should, do about it. You run a very considerable risk, as others have said, that you significantly damage your relationship with her. This is put bluntly because I do not think that you necessarily understand how much this could hurt both of you.

As an aside, you do not appear in this post to be particularly proud of her current, substantial, achievements: is it possible that she is trying to prove to you that actually she is worthy of your respect?

It's our job as parents to let them grow up to be independent adults capable of assessing a situation adequately. It sounds as if that is what she is trying to do. If she is prepared for the position that she may not get in, then I don't think denigrating or forbidding her ambitions will help, it will just show her that you don't feel that she is capable of making her own decisions. Is that really your position?

I also worry about your comment "inconvenient" [that she will be far away]. This is not about your convenience - on the information given. University is a time for learning to cope without your parents (if not before). Why would you want to prevent that?

Finally, in what way do you see settling for something that is not your first choice or heartfelt desire (always assuming that you have the capability to achieve it) as "seeing sense"? That smacks to me of the same type of comment as "who do you think you are, wanting to....[do anything better or different than others around you]" It's the same mentality as: your DD can't be a doctor/engineer/clever/explorer/work in some high-powered job. You are writing off what she wants because you do not approve of it.

If my DD (who is much younger) wanted to go abroad to study, I would support her if she proved capable. If she had done this much to achieve it, I would not be saying "I won't allow an adult to do what they want".

The only reasons I can see that you would have grounds to refuse would be if you were being asked to pay more than you would if she went to a UK university (and if you would fund that and refuse if she goes overseas then you are controlling her through money, which between two adults is unacceptable) or her physical/mental issues which you briefly mention require your care and cannot be met, in the opinion of the overseas university, by the available provision.

In summary, I think you are making a mistake. Let her try.

figroll Sun 25-Mar-12 21:10:01

Sorry I haven't read the whole thread, but my dd has gone through so many different ideas - Cambridge, then Oxford, then US, then Holland, then back to Oxford, and now suddenly she wants to go to the uni down the road, because she doesn't want to leave her beloved boyfriend. Worry about it when she is 18.

cory Mon 26-Mar-12 09:22:28

I am not sure being fixated on a dream at the age of 15 is necessarily an indicator that this is her MH problems speaking. Teenagers do get fixated on things: it's a part of their natural development and something that (perhaps sadly) we lose in later life.

I was absolutely fixated at that age on the idea that I would move abroad and become a specialist in medieval history. Coming from where I did, a small market town in the middle of nowhere, where most people's ambitions were divided between the egg-packing factory and and lumberjacking, this hardly seemed like a healthy or normal dream.

But some 30 odd years later, I am living abroad and I am a specialist (of sorts) on medieval history. I spend less time on obsessing over the details these days, but that is because I am a grown-up, I have more control over my own life- and I know more. The reason 15yo dreams sound unrealistic is because they are inexperienced, not necessarily because the dreams are wrong.

My db spent all his teen years preparing for a career as a violinist. He is not a violinist. But the dreams still did him good: they taught him the value of working hard, focusing, being disciplined- all skills that have helped him to do well in the career he did end up in.

Dd's dreams of joining RADA may be unrealistic. But as long as they help her to get on with her life, I'm not complaining.

A life full of dreams can lead to disappointment. But a life without dreams seems a dull thing.

CareerOrFamily Mon 26-Mar-12 09:24:58

"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."

It is not your decision to make. She will be an adult and making her own decisions about where to study.

helpyourself Mon 26-Mar-12 09:27:45

figroll's advice and description of teenage ficklety is spot on.

Why would you dissuade her? Whatever may happen in the future, it's a great ambition to have right now, it'll keep her focussed.

Three years is a long time in anyone's life, let alone a teenager, she might not get in, she might change her mind; support her now and see what happens in the future.

Heswall Mon 26-Mar-12 09:30:06

I am actively encouraging mine to get out of the UK for univerisity, If I have to pay fees anywhere then I want it to be the best in their chosen field and that might be Liverpool or it might be Melbourne, both will cost me an arm and leg so I can't loose other than paying for flights, not the end of the world.

GooseyLoosey Mon 26-Mar-12 09:36:13

I don't think the fixation is unusual either. I decided at 12 that I was going to read law at Oxford (from a family who had never gone to university). I did and have never regretted it.

I also considered IL universities and my family supported me in all my choices - I knew so much more about what I wanted and how to get it than they did. In addition, they were my choices and had they stood in my way, I would never have forgiven them. Why should my ambitions have been limited by their horizons?

Unless there are insurmountable difficulties not disclosed in the OP, you should not discourage her. It is her life, not yours and at 18 they are no longer your decisions to make.

ZZZenAgain Mon 26-Mar-12 09:38:37

"She has a handful of physical and a dusting of mental health issues"

I do understand your concern. My advice is to be noncommital, be positive about what she is finding out and that she is aiming high. Tell her that she is competing against a huge group of talented young people and even if she is very good, she may just be unlucky and not get the place she wants. For that reason, suggest that she also find out about a second option to have a Plan B.
I think she will change, things will change, it may not come about, she may not get an offer. If she does, you have 3 years now to think about how this could be made to work with you having some kind of peace of mind about it. Hopefully the mental health issues you mention have improved by then. If not, you will have to think everything out carefully when she has an actual offer in hand.

Does she know already what subject she wants to study?

Chrononaut Mon 26-Mar-12 11:43:15

Personally, i think you should let her try and go for it. Your being a little selfish arent you? unless she has a chronic physical or mental illness then she will be fine.

piprabbit Mon 26-Mar-12 11:51:44

I think your DD sounds fabulous. For a 15yo to have done so much research, networked to effectively and constructively and been so focused on her objectives, all with a complete lack of parental encouragement is truly astounding.

Plus, she has the benefit of an existing friendship and kin network in the USA which means (although she would be far from you) she may have more local support to turn to.

Please don't do anything to crush her ambition, she will resent you later in life <bitter personal experience emoticon> even if she has changed her mind about where she wants to go and how she hopes to get there.

SwedishEdith Mon 26-Mar-12 12:03:40

Oh, please let her go <living vicariously>. I was obsessed with going to university in the US as a teen. Actually, you have no say in it really so here's hoping she gets to go where she wants. And she certainly has more than a "reasonable level of academic aptitude". She sounds great

oiwheresthecoffee Mon 26-Mar-12 12:11:26

From what you ve written it sounds like she will be an asset to Harvard and i wish i had half her ambition and talent.
Why on earth do you want to stop her ? She sounds amazing !

oiwheresthecoffee Mon 26-Mar-12 12:12:02

To be honest if shes as decided as she sounds i very much doubt anything you do will stop her anyway.

Journey Mon 26-Mar-12 12:13:19

If it was my child I would ask what career they wanted and then look at what the job market was like for that career. The op's DD seems a bit obsessed with uni but what is she going to do after uni? I'd try and shift the focus onto what career she wants and then look at what uni and courses would be most suitable for that career. If she doesn't have a clear career goal (that is realistic!) then there is little point in going to uni.

I'd support my child with the scholarship stuff. It could be an excellent opportunity if all goes well. Wait and see what the outcome is and take it from there.

ragged Mon 26-Mar-12 19:26:17

"Inconvenience" and supposed dangers sounds silly. But you've also go to manage expectations even if you did support her application, odds of her acceptance are very low. It's much much easier to get into Harvard as a grad student, btw, I would have sailed in at that point. You could channel her ambitions that way. Good first from Oxbridge would be a shoo-in for Harvard entry.

LancsDad Tue 27-Mar-12 01:08:04

If she sits the admissions and gets in - let her go. My brother went to MIT as a post grad which is also in Boston. He had a great time, I visited twice and it's an amazing place.

If she gets into Harvard she'll be inspired academically as it's an amazing place to be a student.

Afterwards when she comes out with a decent degree from Harvard she will not be short of career opportunities.

If you're really worried, why not move there yourself ;-)

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