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MIT staff blogger Bryan G. Nance

A Post For Parents, Part 2 by Bryan G. Nance

A followup to "A Post For Parents, Part 1."

DISCLAMER: Again I must inform students that this post is directed at the parents in the crowd. So if you are a student looking for info about MIT or the college process, you are in the wrong post. SCRAM! This is an adult swim.


Welcome back to the Nance Effect! Hopefully you found a few nuggets of wisdom in my last post that will help you and your child survive the process of choosing the right college for him/her. As you may suspect, this blog is written from the point of view of a man of color to an audience of color. With that said, I believe that the vast majority of my writings are applicable to the masses. Everyone is welcome, come on in, the water is just fine.

In my first piece I addressed philosophical issues and solutions for surviving the college decision process. In this piece I want to address specifics – in particular, down and dirty pitfalls that make this process focus on the wrong factors and make it a living hell for all involved.

As previously noted, I’ve spent the last six months talking to your offspring about the college process. I must say that they have handed themselves with extraordinary grace, intelligence, maturity and savvy. Still this process is as counterintuitive as a good golf swing or skydiving – or for those of us with young children, paying more for daycare than rent. (I know, I know, that’s another conversation altogether).

Despite all that your children are saying – or in some cases not saying – they need you to help get them through this process. Here is where it gets counterintuitive for you; to be effective you must say more by saying less. You must make your words count and you must help to keep your kids on the right decision making path. AND YOU MUST LET YOUR CHILD MAKE HIS OR HER OWN DECISION. Avoid the minefields or at least know where the problem areas dwell and your child will be the better for it.


Every year I scratch my head as many minority students fall into the trap of not attending a school such as MIT because they did not understand the Financial Aid process. Don’t let your child fall into this trap. Here are a few myths/traps.

  • How do you know that you can’t afford MIT if you haven’t seen the financial aid package? Raise your hand if you’ve had a conversation with you child about just how much you can afford to spend on his/her education. What’s that, 4 or 5 hands? Just as I suspected. Look, I know how anxious this topic makes you. Guess what, so does your child! Whenever I’m recruiting for MIT I start my presentation by stating the costs of MIT for 4 years. Without fail, the majority of students are quick to point out that I should move on because their parents can’t afford MIT. So parents, I pose the same question to you that I ask your children: How do you know that you can’t afford MIT if you haven’t seen the financial aid package? It’s not the advertised sticker price of a school that you should worry about; it’s the final, parent contribution that should draw your attention. And you won’t have that until your child’s financial aid package is complete.
  • Make sure that you complete all requested paperwork in a timely manner. Once your child is admitted, the decision-making clock begins. It is difficult to make a decision if you don’t know the terms of the financial aid package from a given institution. Not knowing can be paralyzing. There is no doubt that this missing factor will add lots of stress to an already stressful process. Remember, many institutions have a finite amount of financial aid that they dole out on a first come, first serve basis.
  • Know the ways that financial aid is packaged. At MIT a student’s financial aid package consists of a combination of grants, loans and jobs from private sources, MIT and the government. Grant aid is an award based on financial need that the student does not have to repay. Loans are a type of financial aid, which must be repaid, with interest. The federal student loan programs are a good method of financing the costs of your college education. These loans are better than most consumer loans because they have lower interest rates and do not require a credit check or collateral. Some even provide a variety of deferment options and extended repayment terms. Federal Work-Study (FWS) provides undergraduate students with part-time employment during the school year. The federal government pays a portion of the student’s salary, making it cheaper for departments and businesses to hire the student. For this reason, work-study students often find it easier to get a part-time job. Eligibility for FWS is based on need. Money earned from a FWS job is not counted as income for the subsequent year’s need-analysis process. (These definitions were taken from the FINAID website. Additional financial aid definitions can be found here:
  • When in doubt, always go to the source! You should visit the web site of the school and also find out the email or phone number of the financial aid counselor who is handling your child’s case. Call/email if you have questions. Although it may be tough to get through, persistence pays off.
  • Not every scholarship is equal. Yes, there are many schools out there promising full-ride scholarships. There are also many car dealerships offering you a new car for $99.00 down and $99.00 per month. If you were buying a car and it sounded too good to be true, you’d be suspicious. The same should be true of scholarships.
  • Know what questions to ask about financial aid. What is the appeal process? How will the institution count outside scholarships? What is the policy for divorced parents? Is there a payment plan? What are the residency requirements (for state schools)? Is this award need-based or merit-based?
  • Know the questions that you should ask about any “fantastic scholarship offer”:
    • Is it guaranteed for 4 years? Many of the full-ride scholarships only cover year 1 or maybe year 2; then the grant aid (free money from the institution) is replaced with loans.
    • Does it come with a minimum GPA requirement? Some scholarships require students to maintain a specific GPA. In some cases, the scholarship is terminated if a student drops below the minimum.
    • Is it tied to a specific major or program? If the scholarship is tied to specific major or program, your child may lose funding by simply changing his/her major of focus of study.
    • What out-of-the-classroom requirements are attached to the scholarship? This is important because it can really suck up your son/daughter’s free time. A scholarship that requires 75 hours of community service per semester can make for a rough transition to college.


  • If at all possible, make sure that your children visit campus before making a decision. They should visit even if they visited before being admitted, because they’ll be in a completely different space now. Your child’s previous visit brought her to us as a candidate. Now she comes to interview us. We know that her savvy has grown exponentially and that she now comes seeking answers to very specific questions. Before she asked about majors and now she’ll ask about classes. Before she asked if there are sororities on campus and now she’ll ask about the pledging process. Your child is not just coming to go to school here, she is also coming to live here for the next 4 years.
  • If there is a minority visit program, do it. Campus visits are particularly important for minority students because they need to get a feel for the campus climate. Additionally, they need to understand the community that they will be joining in visceral ways. This happens quickly when they are immersed in the campus climate via these types of programs.
  • Should parents attend? Yes, with some rules. Of course you are welcome to attend campus open houses for admitted students. We call ours CPW (Campus Preview Weekend). You need to feel good about where your child will study and play. However, you must remember that this is his/her decision. I don’t care how close you and your children are, they will act very differently in your presence. Remember the Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
  • If you decide to attend, remember to observe the following rules:
    • Part ways at the beginning of the program and don’t reconvene until the program is over. (Except for those few joint activities.)
    • Attend all of the parent receptions and seminars. We spend a lot of time putting these programs together to answer your many questions. Don’t forget that many of us are parents too!
    • Compare notes with other parents. If you have specific questions, ask if it is possible to speak to parents of students who have been through the process already. Some institutions even provide a list of parents to contact from your hometown.
    • Visit Financial Aid First! BRING ALL PAPERWORK WITH YOU! In fact, try to get everything to the Financial Aid office before you arrive.
    • Go to all the places that provide care for your child. Go to the medical center so you’ll know how the staff handles cases of illness, eat in the dining facility so that you’ll know what the chow is like, take the campus tour so you’ll know how far she has to walk in the cold, go to campus safety so that you can understand how safe your baby will be.
    • Take plenty of notes. On your trip back your child will babble on and on about what he/she experienced. Notes help you to ask the kinds of questions that promote sound decision-making.
    • Encourage your children to do the same. If the experience was good, they’ll rattle on forever. If the experience was bad, they’ll become very tight-lipped. Lists can help you to understand and interpret the visit.
    • Ask a ton of questions! This is a very complicated process. If you don’t ask, we’ll assume that you understand everything.

I could go on forever with tips for choosing the right college but I’ll stop here. I can’t say enough times that this process can be overwhelming if not managed properly. Also remember that this can also be a beautiful experience. If you avoid the common pitfalls and communicate with your child, you will bear witness to a defining moment in his or her transition into a young adult. After all, isn’t this one of the moments that you’ve sacrificed and planned for all of his/her life?

Enough from me, let me hear from you. Do you have any suggestions or pitfalls to avoid?

13 responses to “A Post For Parents, Part 2”

  1. AnotherMom says:

    Wow! Thanks for the great advice. It’s nice to have a blog entry just for the parents. This is a growing process as parents as well – another phase of life for us. After spending a day accepting the fact that she won’t be at home in the fall and getting support from others who have been there, I’m happy for this next stage and looking forward to it. I will miss her to be sure (after all,she is my daughter!) but I am happy that she appears ready for this next adventure in life. Time does fly.

    Anyhow….Another suggestion for the students to think about: try to map out what 4 years at the school will be like for you. I know that this can not be set in stone, but it gives the student a reality check of sorts. My husband “suggested” to our daughter that she map out a plan of action for 4 years to see if what she wanted to do could be done at each of the places to which she has applied. This has turned out to be an excellent exercise for her. As a result, she has had to delve deeper into websites (not just the glossy stuff) and really see she would be able to do. Now when I ask a question, she can tell me that oh yeah, they don’t call it x at this school, they call it y but it is the same thing. I can tell that she is really thinking very seriously about this without me standing over her. As such, her words drive our conversations about colleges. So, parents you may want your students to just look through a typical course of study for their intended major and make certain that is what they want for four years. Little things that may seem insignificant to us are a big deal to them and can sway them either way.

    My daughter looks forward to CPW – she’ll be on her own. I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

    Thanks again for the sage advice!

  2. Nancy says:

    Thanks for all your information and the wonderful MIT blogs – what a difference they make.

    You posed four excellent questions regarding scholarship offers – can you please provide the MIT’s answers. Also is financial aid negotiable? We are still waiting to hear if my son will receive any financial aid – unfortunately aid will be the final deciding factor.

    Although thrilled to be admitted, we can’t celebrate quite yet.

  3. thekeri says:

    I’m a student, but I read this anyway – my mom doesn’t read the MIT blogs (computers terrify her a bit), but I’m sending her a link to this post.

    Thank you for it, at least!

  4. Maureen DCY says:

    Hey you the KG,
    Computers DO NOT TERRIFY ME!!! It’s just that I do not have the patience to sit around and wait for them to process and process and well, whatever, else they “think” they have to do before spitting out the info I seek to make work lighter or whatever, I want it to do. QUICKLY.
    Well you should know what I mean. It takes less time to write with my left hand on paper. OK.

    Actually, I kind of like this, and It’s the first one(blog), I’ve come across that’s addressed to me; (Parent… Mother), so all I did before was sat on your bed and listened to you read yours to me. So thanks for the forward move. Appreciate you.
    Mom. (That’s all)… (oh do computers think? Will find out some day.)

    Thank you Mr. Nance, for keeping it real. We will be attending cpw and this article will help us to prepare some questions for financial Aid department, before we get there.

  5. I’ve been reading the blogs for quite a while and I really appreciate all the advice and information you have provided along the way. I thought I understood the financial aid system but each school has calculated my ability to pay differently. I’m still waiting for a determination from MIT (mix up with the IDOC# slowed the process). I want to ask how do middle class families finance an MIT education? I’m willing to let my child pass up a 4-year renewable full-tuition award at another Tech school (with less than 1% AA) to attend MIT but really can’t see how I can swing the cost of MIT or the other elite schools that don’t offer merit scholarships. Just looking for any guidance you can offer.
    The pictures of your children were wonderful and they are both beautiful.

  6. Phillip Kim says:

    hey Bryan (got it right this time),

    It was great meeting you in person today! Thank you very much for holding your hunger to ask some of my questions.. =) Also, it’s great to confirm that the person who “judged” me is one cool guy haha.

    I guess it’ll be a busy week for u with cpw! Hope you get some good rest still in between. Thanks again.

  7. Nancy,

    Good question. Before I jump in with financial aid info I suggest that you visit the official MIT web site: There you will find all that you need to know about aid and trhe process at MIT.

    With that said, MIT packages its students for 4 years, not one year at a time. We are a need based institution. We don’t offer Merit awards. If we offered financial aid based on how smart our student are, we’d be broke tomorrow.

    We think that it is far more equitiable to use a need based approach. We are so committed to educating the best and the brightest in the world and we are not going to let a little thing like money get in the way. Think of it like this, if your family has a net worth of $80.00, we think that we should assist you with the MIT tutition bill. On the other hand, if you cleared $8,000,000.00 last year and you just won the PowerBall, you can make the check payable to the MIT Bursuar.

  8. naeem says:

    Hi Bryan,

    We have to stop meeting like this.

    I am curious about the Eisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Is that anything like the one associated with Heisenberg? Was Eisenberg one of Heisenberg’s parents? If Eisenberg was one of Heisenberg’s parents was the presence of that parent part of the uncertainty effect?

    Ithaca needs you.


    p.s. Does MIT still have a good Tae Kwan Do team?

  9. Melissa Y. says:

    I think he meant the “Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.”

  10. My Dearest Naeem,

    Only you would catch the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle thing. In fact it was just yesterday that I had to unleash the Lourde masterpiece ” A Master’s Tools Would Never Dismantle the Masters House” I started to unload the Benekebut they just weren’t ready.

    For those who don’t know who neeem is, let me fill you in. Dr. Naeem Inayatullah, Associate Professor of Politics for Ithaca College is one of my mentors. He has forgotten more about the world of higher education than I will ever know. Together he and I taught a course at a N.Y. State max. security prison for 3+ years.

    So naeem, I submit to you, that you are needed in Bean town as much as I am needed in Ithaca! In fact, I issue you this offer, you may guest blog anytime you feel the calling.

    Remember, MIT is the Church of Numbers and everyday is the high, holy day. Are you worthy of being the high priest?

  11. Star says:

    Hey Bryan,

    I sent you an email last week with a refreshing new banner, as we discussed, but my mail system has been having issues, so I am not sure if you got it.. Let me know, or I can resend it!


  12. I don’t think a lot of parents read blogs at all. But anyway it’s useful for students as well.

  13. Timur Sahin says:

    You know Nance, I swear I’m trying really hard to not photoshop things, but when you keep giving me ammunition like that Church of Numbers thing, it gets harder and harder to resist…

    Watch out for the next few days. wink