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The college search process is finally over. And this is not an April Fools’ post.

It was an emotional weekend. After months of applying to places, hearing things piecemeal, getting and weighing financial aid offers, unsuccessfully appealing one of them, getting word from the last college to report, and crunching some numbers pretty hard…

The Boy is going to UVA. Five months from now, he’ll be ensconced in Charlottesville.

He’s excited and relieved. The excitement is about moving to the next big life stage, getting to spread his wings, getting out of the house, and just throwing himself wholeheartedly into college. The relief is about two things: knowing where he’ll be in a few months, and knowing that he’ll be out of New Jersey.

I knew he wanted to get out of New Jersey, but I didn’t realize just how badly he wanted out until the prospect of attending Rutgers started to look real.  Rutgers made a good offer, including the Honors College, and some of the out-of-state ones made terrible offers. He was despondent at the thought of being so close to home.

I was the same way at his age, only with “Western New York” replacing “New Jersey.” I remember not even wanting to consider Cornell, because it was too close. That’s pretty much where he stood on Rutgers.  Great school, nothing against it, but it’s here. He wants to be somewhere else, just because it’s somewhere else. He got that gene from me.  If he’s like me, the power of that compulsion will fade later, but at seventeen, it’s compelling.

Having just gone through the process, a few observations:

  • UVA is one of the few public universities in the Eastern part of the country (along with UNC) that commit to meeting full financial need.  Admittedly, a term like “full financial need” is subject to different definitions, as anyone who lives in an expensive state and got hit hard by the loss of the SALT deduction can attest, but still.  Some places -- cough Michigan cough -- don’t even try.
  • Many of the others seem to confine meaningful aid to in-state residents, using out-of-state students as cash cows. Michigan was the most egregious, which was frustrating because it was originally his first choice. But the offer it made was so absurd that I honestly don’t know why it bothered. Michigan’s loss is Virginia’s gain.
  • Minnesota actually committed publicly to raising out-of-state tuition ten percent per year for the next several years.  When I saw that, we crossed it off the list. I was honestly shocked that they said that in public. My fearless prediction: Minnesota will see a decline in out-of-state enrollments.  In the age of search engines, you just can’t get away with that sort of thing.
  • Having followed news of TB’s friends, I get the impression that for some of the private universities, the waitlist is the new rejection.  I remember waitlisting being relatively rare when I was a student; now it seems like the default setting for many places.
  • The whole “Aunt Becky” admissions scandal had the unintended effect of reducing the sting of some responses.  Having empirical proof of what many of us had long suspected about using students as cash cows made the waitlist/rejections less personal.
  • “College Scorecard”-type “transparency” is utterly useless when it comes to predicting post-aid costs.  What matters isn’t the sticker price; it’s what you actually have to pay. And the two are only distantly related.  That’s especially true out-of-state.
  • The roommate selection process relies on social media.  Admitted students form (or are put into? I’m not sure…) Facebook groups or group chats to find each other.  That obviously wasn’t an option in my student days, but I was matched with a surfer dude and a football player, neither of whom I’ve seen in decades, so I can’t really stand on tradition here.
  • Finally, the formula for calculating “need” needs to be seriously rethought.  We hear a lot about “gapping,” which refers to aid that falls short of meeting the EFC.  But even the EFC is preposterously high. Price increases at this rate are not sustainable.  And as we’re regularly reminded, there’s no financial aid for retirement.

Having said all of that, and filed it for use in a few years when it’s The Girl’s turn, it’s time now to look forward. TB is thrilled to have clarity on where he’s going next, and knowing that he’s going somewhere where he can make his own name.  He has med school in his sights, and I’m confident that UVA will give him the opportunity to step up, or not. Now it’s on him.

Charlottesville bound!

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