College Info

A Parent’s Perspective

October 1, 2020

Hilary Gower, mother of Sarah Abrams (Harvard ’15)

When Sarah’s brothers were deciding on universities, it was quite straightforward as they knew which subjects they were interested in, and quickly found universities that offered suitable courses and provided the extracurricular activities they wanted. It was different when it came to Sarah as she really didn’t know what she wanted to study (or even if!) and British universities offered little opportunity to pursue her passion for athletics. One of her coaches introduced her to the idea of studying in the USA, as American universities offer outstanding facilities for sport. I was initially a bit nervous about the prospect of her going so far away and certainly daunted by the amount of paperwork she (and I)  would have to deal with to get her there, in marked contrast to clear path through the UCAS system. Still, despite a few nail-biting moments and nearly missed deadlines, she was offered a place at Harvard. In what seemed like no time at all we were seeing her off from Heathrow with more bags than I thought she could possibly manage!

One of the major advantages of the American university system is that it provides the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects before deciding on a major. This was perfect for Sarah as by the age of 17–18 she had no idea what she wanted to do with her life. She was able to expand her knowledge widely and make a more mature choice when deciding on her final main focus of study. Going to the USA also enabled her to broaden her horizons culturally and socially.

What about cost? The American college system provides a wonderful opportunity for students who play sport at a high level. Those with the required talent may be offered full sports scholarships that cover not only tuition fees, but all living and travel costs, and sports and health-related expenses.  Others may be offered more limited funding in the form of a partial sports scholarship or a needs-based scholarship according to family income, so a parental contribution may be required. It’s worth weighing this up against of the cost of studying at a British university. Here, student loans are available to cover tuition fees and to help with living costs. However, most parents will find themselves having to provide substantial financial support to their sons and daughters as the loans simply do not cover the full cost of a student living away from home. So the parents still pay and the student ends up with a huge debt!

When Sarah decided to apply to American universities, we navigated our way through the admissions process unaided. It took a considerable amount of time and effort to get everything together. Apart from the main application process, there were numerous other things to sort out, including admissions tests, funding, NCAA registration and travel documents. We got through the process by trial and error, but I would highly recommend getting some help with it. Based on their own experiences, Jonathan and the team at RightTrack have developed the expertise to help with all aspects of the application process and ongoing administration to get your son or daughter across the pond with the minimum of stress.

So was it all worth it? Sarah experienced a couple of bumps along the way, but certainly nothing worse than she might have encountered at university in the UK. She was a long way from home but we were in regular contact by Skype, and I probably kept in touch more with her than I did with her brothers when they were studying in the UK! Overall it was an incredibly positive experience for Sarah. Going abroad presented her with new challenges that she would not have faced had she stayed at home, and she gained strength and resolve as a result. The broad programme of study enabled her to find out where her interests really lie, and she has recently embarked on a career in medicine. As a result of her American adventure, she now has firm friends in many parts of the world.

There is a tendency these days for parents to micromanage their children and perhaps to overprotect. It is tempting to set them on the well trodden path, based on our own comfort zones, but it’s far better to support them in making their own decisions. Encourage them to spread their wings and see them fly!