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.

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 ;-)

LeBOF Tue 27-Mar-12 01:27:22

The OP obviously isn't returning to this thread. Which is just rude, if you ask me.

joanofarchitrave Tue 27-Mar-12 01:57:10

I can't believe you really meant 'inconvenient', because nobody on earth would stop their child from doing something for a reason like that.

Does she have an aunt in America? Quite normal for an aunt to be her first emergency contact?

madwomanintheattic Tue 27-Mar-12 02:14:13

she sounds fantastic, and will have family there to support her. ace.

i was just going to post 'get her to sit the SAT' but she's trying to convince you to do that anyway, lol, so no point.

the physical thing is interesting. i have no idea what her issues are, but i can say that dd2 has cerebral palsy and an iq of 143, and biiiiiiig dreams, and i find the idea of her waltzing off to uni terrifying. it doesn't mean i'm going to stop her though. and as we emigrated anyway, there's a pretty big chance that she will decide to study in a different country. knowing her, she'll want to go to oxford grin this would actually be pretty neat, as of course we have family in the uk (as you do in the states). terrifying, but pretty neat.

let her sit the SAT (will she be old enough this may?) and see what happens. she has ages yet, and will probably change her mind anyway.

it sounds amazing. i really hope she makes it and you find a way to overcome your fears.

mathanxiety Tue 27-Mar-12 02:47:33

My own DD1 is about to graduate from a US university. Pastoral care in American universities is amazing. Financial aid is generous. They admit you based on your grades, but the financial aid is need based. There are lots of forms to fill out and tax returns to show. Basically, if your family earns less than I think £40K a year, you will pay very little.

Your DD is absolutely right about the breadth of an American third level education, but not in her assumption that that means depth is lacking. DD1 majored in economics with a minor in fine arts. Along the way she learned Persian. She has a job waiting for her as soon as she graduates.

If your DD doesn't get into Harvard, or if she doesn't really mind which selective university she goes to, she could look into Columbia, Barnard (women's college affiliated with Columbia and located across the street in NYC), Brown (in Rhode Island), Yale, Amherst, Wellesley (another women's college) and New York University. Women's colleges are especially good at pastoral care though I don't think the atmosphere is any less louche than what you would find in a highly selective co-ed environment, though far better than the ambiance in less selective places.

Admission into highly selective universities in the US is a crapshoot, but you don't apply for a particular course. You apply as a freshman and in most universities you embark on a core course requirement that all freshmen do, unless you test out of particular subjects. You choose your major some time after your freshman year but you will still have coursework in a lot of perhaps unrelated subjects to tackle. American universities have seen a huge increase in applications from the UK for about the last five years. Fairs attract enormous crowds.

I would encourage her to get organised and take the SAT and do the necessary financial aid things, apply to a few east coast universities/colleges, and make a few UK applications too. There is also Trinity College Dublin...

mathanxiety Tue 27-Mar-12 02:52:51

Her SAT result would have to be fantastic to get into Harvard though..

Tolalola Tue 27-Mar-12 03:18:36

Unless things have changed a lot in the last 10 15 few years, it is quite difficult for overseas students to get financial aid in the US.

TheCatInTheHairnet Tue 27-Mar-12 03:23:50

She's 15. Let her have her dream.

I am wondering where all this cheap US education everyone's talking about on here is coming from though. Harvard is $50k a year and I feel faint every time I even think about DS1 going to college in 3 years time and how much it's going to cost us.

mathanxiety Tue 27-Mar-12 05:07:31

From recent BBC article --

'The headline price of US universities can be dauntingly high - the top bracket are above $50,000 (£32,000) per year - but this is often offset by high levels of means-tested financial support.

Harvard spokesman Jeff Neal says the university has seen growing numbers of students from the UK and that families with "low and middle incomes will likely pay no more to send their students to Harvard than to a UK university".

From next year, students at Harvard from families earning below $65,000 (£41,000) per year will not have to pay any tuition fees.

The most competitive US universities, hungry for the most talented students, recruit from around the world, with means-tested support available.'

cory Tue 27-Mar-12 08:28:25

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 say that depends. The employment chances for our Modern Languages graduates are excellent, but very few of them know exactly how they are going to use their languages when they start uni.

As a university teacher, I would say that wanting a certain career is less of a predictor of success than actually wanting to study the subject. Students who just say "I want to be X" are less likely to get a First than students who say "I really want to understand this". And getting a First can make a huge difference to your chances of having a successful career.

ZZZenAgain Tue 27-Mar-12 09:23:10

I am not convinced that when the dd is 18, she will go to Harvard regardless of what her parents wish, as so many have said. How will she go to Harvard without her family paying for it. Yes, she may get some kind of scholarship but it will not cover everything, she needs flights, daily living expensies, books, health insurance and there will still be fees. Without the family helping her financially, I don't see how an 18 year old is definitely going to go.

I would say the chances of getting in are not good, the chances of getting a scholarship are not good. By all means try and let her try but definitely have some other option in mind which is also good if it doesn't work out. Only so many people can get into Harvard every year and a fair few Americans from very good schools will be trying too.

cory Tue 27-Mar-12 09:44:36

I don't think there is any need for anyone to be convinced that the dd will go to Harvard to see that the OP is barking up the wrong tree. Nobody knows what might happen and nobody should try to clear up the dreams of a teenager. Maybe she will, maybe she won't. But dreams are good things to have and can lead on to all sorts of unexpected things. Nothing more depressing than a 15yo who is already drawing her horns in because nothing exciting is "for the likes of us". If 15yos thought like 50yos, very few of them would get anywhere.

mumeeee Tue 27-Mar-12 10:46:00

I agree with other posters. Your DD sounds fantastic, not many 15 year olds would be that ambitious or even have any idea what they want to do. You can't stop her going or trying to get in. Let her take the test and see where it goes from there. You have a few more years until she's 18 and she might have changed her mind by then.

ragged Tue 27-Mar-12 12:32:35

I had 98th+%tile result for maths SAT, 97th%tile result for English. Those were not remotely fantastic enough to get me into Yale or Stanford. Ivy League Undergrad admissions demands consistent High Achiever status (in academics and several non-academic things), as well as clear evidence of future Leadership potential.

mummytime Tue 27-Mar-12 12:52:35

Ragged that is the thing, if you are brilliant just at academics, especially in one area, and can show consistent interest in that then you are probably better off applying to Oxbridge. However if you are bright but also can demonstrate achievement in a wide range of areas, then the US might be better.

BranchingOut Tue 27-Mar-12 13:01:49

I would be very reluctant to quash her dreams at this point. Wait and see.

I am someone whose early dreams were quashed and, as a result, never quite fulfilled their academic potential.

I went into the Upper Sixth with a AAA prediction (1992, so much harder to get back then). I had been reading university prospectuses, careers guides etc since the age of 13 and was setting my sights on Oxbridge or at least the equivalent to a 'Russell Group' university. I was ambitious, very bright, passionate and articulate.

However, the problem was that my father was not prepared to support me financially. His salary wasn't huge, but neither was he prepared to disclose it on the grant forms (grants still available back then!). His idea was that I should have a year out and earn the full amount of money to support myself. I knew this and had been saving since an early age through Saturday jobs etc. My sister had done the year out and I was prepared to do this too, but my father was also making my life extremely uncomfortable by his reactions to my first boyfriend - banning him from the house etc. I was miserable, home wasn't a happy place and the thought of waiting at home for another year while all my friends and my boyfriend went off to university was a very unhappy prospect.

What happened? I lost all focus, wanted to move out, began wondering if I should go to university at all, started applying for jobs, filled in a fairly random set of choices on my UCAS form and accepted an offer on a place which I hadn't visited and didn't want to go to. In the end I got AAB in my A-Levels and, on the night of my results, succumbed to huge parental pressure to go to the university nearest my house that October, rather than taking a year out. My parents wanted this as living at home would get around the expense problem.

I got a place through clearing, but it was a mid-ranking unversity, not what I would have chosen and my freshers year as one of very few 'living at home' students was just miserable, as everyone else lived on campus and I felt very isolated.

I got a 2:1 and the result looks fine on my CV, but I don't feel proud or positive when I look back at my university years. It did its job, but I was happy enough to leave and put it behind me.

Anyway, be careful that quashing her dream doesn't result in her going in a totally unforseen direciton.

PS. I married the boyfriend!

mathanxiety Tue 27-Mar-12 15:24:53

ZZZenAgain, the financial aid offered by American universities is excellent. It is not a scholarship, it is need-based financial aid and it is provided for students according to need and drawn out of the massive endowments that all private American universities have. Scholarships are separate. You can have scholarships on top of the financial aid. Financial aid in the US is designed to make it possible for qualified students to attend university -- everyone looks good when a university can claim to enroll the best students. American university endowments exceed the GDP of many developing countries.

Health insurance is part of what gets billed paid for by the financial aid package if a family qualifies. Universities provide it -- you don't have to go out and buy your own. Daily living expenses would be outside of food -- room and board are all included in the bill, and thus included in the financial aid package. Flights home may also be included in the financial aid package as universities take distance from home into account. And there is work study -- American students are not discouraged from term time jobs as Oxbridge students are. In addition to campus jobs, there is babysitting in the local area, or even waitressing, etc. DD1 worked part time all through her four years and made enough to afford all the extras she could hope or wish for. Her debt from student loans she took out is approximately $20K for four years at an excellent university. She will have that paid off in about three years.

I don't entirely agree that you should try to identify an area where jobs will be plentiful four years down the road and stick to that, although there are some exceptions such as engineering. DD1 started out with the idea of ending up an architect but the bottom fell out of the real estate market during her first year of university, so she switched her focus to economics and art, which maintained her maths and art general direction and continued to play to her strengths. She wouldn't have started any architecture courses until her second year anyway. A broad based subject like economics will give a student options upon graduation. Languages will also give you options but in combination with a humanities subject such as public policy or economics a language would be even better. I am encouraging DD2 (16) to head in this direction. DS is heading in the direction of medicine (also in the US) and will end up with a bachelors of science in cellular and molecular biology before applying to med school. If he changes his mind about medicine he will still have options. The beauty of the American system is that you don't have to put all your eggs in the one basket or guess where the world economy will be in four years. You can be flexible and follow an interest that develops.

madwomanintheattic Tue 27-Mar-12 15:33:14

No idea if the op is coming back, but I had a slightly related thought overnight...

I know we don't know what the dd's physical issues are, but it might be worth getting her to also investigate the health insurance aspect, with an per-existing condition. Make sure all eventualities are covered.

I know when we moved to Canada, dd2's condition was very pertinent...

roundtable Tue 27-Mar-12 15:38:58

When you say sickly OP, what do you mean? Does it relate to the danger you perceive?

Otherwise, it's a very strange reaction to what sounds like a smart and ambitious girl's plan.

mathanxiety Tue 27-Mar-12 15:40:20

Universities buy their own group policy and pre-existing conditions must be covered under the Obama health care law. Universities have their own health clinics for students. You can check whether a condition would be covered, but I think that US national disability legislation would ensure that all students would be covered as not to do so would effectively mean that students with a disability or a pre-existing condition might be excluded from attending.

madwomanintheattic Tue 27-Mar-12 15:49:58

It sounds as though it would probably be fine, then. smile

ZZZenAgain Tue 27-Mar-12 19:34:21

thanks mathanx, very interesting

Tranquilidade Tue 27-Mar-12 19:43:34

Two boys from DS's year studied in America, both on soccer scholarships and had a great time.

DS rather fancied doing a postgrad degree at Yale but was put off by an estimated $70,000 cost for the year (including living costs). Apparently postgrad courses are more expensive as many students are funded by companies

TinkerSailerSoldierSpy Wed 04-Apr-12 14:19:31

IMO you should encourage her! How very sad that you don't. And by then she'll be an adult. She could go off and do it without your 'permission' and it would be perfectly fine and legal. You cant bubble wrap her forever.

Osomec Sat 05-Jan-13 18:31:46

I with all the other posters who are dismayed by your attitude. Unless the health issues are very severe, which sounds unlikely, you shouldn't be wanting to squash your daughter's dream.

I am very impressed that your daughter is excited by the breadth of American courses. I read English at Oxford, and I detested the narrowness of the single subject approach, so if my children want to go to American universities, I'll be delighted.

One more point, University College London is moving towards a broader, more American approach to undergraduate education, so it might be worth considering as a supplementary option, but only if your daughter likes the look of it. This is her decision to make. Unless her choice is going to cost you money that you can't afford (and going to Harvard will almost certainly be cheaper than going to a British university) the idea that you can or should be telling your daughter where she can or can't go to university is one that you need to get out of your head before it messes up your relationship with her and her life chances.

RyleDup Sat 05-Jan-13 18:36:12

Help her achieve this and follow her dreams. She sounds amazing. Why wouldn't you help her. Its her life, dreams and ambitions, not yours.

flow4 Sat 05-Jan-13 23:27:43

Another zombie thread! And an OP who didn't come back... So probably not worth time commenting, people smile

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