Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Terrapin and the Panther

The Sole Heir will attend the University of Maryland in the fall. The decision was not lightly made.

It started a year and a half ago, with a core list of eight schools. Maryland was required to be one, by parental fiat: a reasonably priced fallback position. Applications were sent to Columbia, Brown, Princeton, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins, American University, and Maryland.

The results were inconsistent. Confusing, even. Pitt got the ball rolling, waiving out of state tuition before she even applied, then granting a full tuition scholarship by Thanksgiving weekend. Boston College accepted her, but provided no aid. Johns Hopkins put her on the wait list. The Ivies passed. American provided a large scholarship, but its base tuition is so high the remaining costs were still roughly equal to full freight at Maryland.

That left Pitt and Maryland, schools with virtually identical rankings. Late in March, Maryland ponied up with a Banneker-Key scholarship, the school’s highest honor, for full tuition. A Maryland Scholar grant from the state knocked off another three grand, so long as she went to school in Maryland.

No word from Pitt. March became April; the deadline for students to accept offers was May 1. Middle of April TSH called Pitt to see when letters would go out and got the runaround. Same thing the next week. Hedging her bets, she continued her research and became comfortable with the idea of attending Maryland. When people asked, I told them I was 99.44% sure she’d go to Maryland.

Pitt finally made their offer last Friday, April 24: free. They would pay her tuition, standard room and board, all mandatory fees, a small stipend for books, and a couple of thousand bucks to study abroad, should she choose to. (Which she almost certainly will.)

I was torn. I’d become a Maryland advocate, in no small part because the campus is twenty minutes from my house. Generous as Maryland’s offer was, Pitt’s was much better. Family meeting time, and I had no choice but to argue in favor of Pitt.

The Sole Heir, her mother, and I went around on the relative merits for an hour and a half. Death Row inmates should have a lawyer as well-prepared and eloquent as TSH was that day. She acknowledged the benefits of Pitt, and the money it would cost her down the road to go to Maryland. (She plans to go to medical school. Every dollar spent on undergraduate school is a dollar that will have to be borrowed later.) Then she laid out the benefits of Maryland. She had me wavering by the time I left. A short phone call on Saturday to mention something else she’d thought of pushed me a little farther. There wasn’t a lot of doubt by the time we all got together Sunday afternoon.

Words cannot express how proud I am. For all the work she did to earn such bountiful offers from two good schools, yes, but mostly for the manner in which she handled herself through the discussion and decision-making process. She made the right decision, using logic and facts, understanding there are other things to consider than money, and that emotional attachments play a role in such a decision. (At one point on Sunday, she said, “I’m a Maryland girl. I like it here.”)

I hope Maryland appreciates what they’re getting here. I know I do.

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