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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?

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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

thanks mathanx, very interesting

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

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

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.

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.

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...

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.'

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.

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.

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

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

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...

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.

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?

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