College Craziness: Tentative Decision

James Madison University

My son accepted a spot at James Madison University last week, and paid the deposit. While I’m relieved that he has somewhere to go, it’s a shame that he had to accept an admissions offer from a school that isn’t really where he wants to be, especially since he was also accepted to his first choice.

A few weeks ago, we had good news and bad news. The good news: He was accepted by his top-choice school, Boston Conservatory at Berklee School of Music. The bad news: The financial aid offer was so low that he can’t go without another source of funding.

Seriously, Berklee’s total estimated yearly cost is $73,000. Each year for four years! Who has that kind of extra cash, even if you’ve been saving up, as we have, with a 529 plan?

The school offered some very small government loans, way too small to make a difference. And there is no way I’d let a Music Composition take out tens of thousands in further school loans, even if we were offered more. He would never be able to repay it. He plans to appeal to the school for more aid, but I doubt he’ll get it. We are also researching other scholarship options. He’s applied for a few and is waiting to hear, but those alone are too small to allow him to go to Berklee, even if he wins them.

He was waitlisted at Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins, and will probably accept that spot over JMU, if it’s offered to him with enough scholarship money. The cost at Hopkins (where I went to grad school) is about the same as Berklee, but unlike Berklee, it is known for generous financial aid packages. So that one’s not hopeless, but it’s a long way from a sure thing.

My own undergrad alma mater, the University of Virginia, also waitlisted him, saying he is qualified but there is no room in the class and offering him admission at the Wise County campus for a year, with guaranteed acceptance at the main campus in Charlottesville after that. We’ve never visited the Wise campus, and have not been impressed by what we’ve learned about it, so he doesn’t want to accept that offer, though he’d be happy to come off the waitlist at the main campus. Unfortunately, very few people ever come off the waitlist at UVa, so we’re not holding our breath.

So for now, he’s accepted JMU, and we’re willing to lose the deposit if something else comes through. He could do a lot worse than JMU; it’s a good school with an excellent music department. It just isn’t one of his top choices; he was eager to attend a real conservatory. But if nothing else comes through, I think he’ll be OK there.

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