Colleges, Cars and Drivers


Colleges, Cars and Drivers

By the time this article is published, we will be well in to July, but right now it’s full-on Dads and Grads season. I’m busy looking for a gift my husband will like – something that he won’t just buy for himself. And I’m collecting graduation announcements from the children of friends and family who live all over the country. 

I send them all a congratulatory card and a check – the amount of which depends on a vague equation of how well I know them, how often I am in touch with their parents, and how much money I already spent that day. 

All this focus on graduation and college decisions is a jolt. If you’re me, you remember high school graduation and the terror/exhilaration of leaving home. I think about the decisions I made and how they led me to the spot I stand on now. I also think about how in three years, it will be my daughter in a cap and gown and headed off to parts unknown. But we won’t focus on that right now or there might be tears.

My cousin’s daughter is going to University of Hawaii; a friend’s daughter is headed to University of California at Santa Barbara; another friend’s daughter is going to San Diego State; and another to University of Michigan. That’s the short list.

My daughter is already preparing for college, choosing her classes to meet admissions criteria, keeping her grades up and strategizing extracurriculars. She will get her driver’s license next year, take the SAT next year, learn to cook sometime (hopefully), and start the applications process as a junior.

One of the big decisions that will come with college is the car. Do we send her to school with a car? Will she need one? Where will she park? How much will it cost?

It remains to be seen if she is a good driver or not, so that will influence the final call. But the rest will depend on where she goes to college. If it’s Hawaii, then no. We’re not shipping over a car or buying one on the island. I’m going to assume University of Hawaii accommodates its students’ transportation needs with an accessible campus, buses, skateboards and surf boards.

If it’s Santa Barbara or San Diego, then yes. We know about the traffic and the way colleges sprawl and we want her to come home to see us sometime. If she’s near enough to drive home, then she will take a car. But if she goes somewhere as far away as Michigan, we’ll have to decide based on the campus and college housing, parking and cost.

If we send her to college with a car, we will all need to gain an understanding of parking availability, fees, permits and so forth. Do colleges provide those details online? I will have to add that point of research to my long list.

I attended a university of 30,000 students on 560 acres in a snowy climate. I stayed in the dorms my first year and did not have a car. It took me 25 minutes to walk from my dorm to my first class on the opposite corner of campus. I ate all my meals in my dorm cafeteria. There was very little parking around the dorm and less on campus. I didn’t need or want a car.

My sophomore year looked completely different. I lived off campus and needed a car to get to work and go to the store. I mostly parked under my apartment building, at work, and on a huge lot just outside campus. My social life looked different that year, too, and I spent more of my free time off campus. Fortunately, my dad bought me a Ford Malibu that was older than I was but had low mileage, and I was free as a bird who did not know how to drive in the snow.

It’s crazy what kids don’t know when you agree to let them leave home and live on their own. Besides not knowing how to drive, or park, in the snow, when I went to college, I didn’t understand why it was a bad idea to sign up for all those credit card offers that kept arriving in my mail box. I had never done my own laundry. I thought I could cook because I’d been watching all those years – but watching and doing are not at all the same thing. And I had no idea how homesick I would be.

Of the many things I need to do to help my daughter prepare for college, transportation is just one – and hopefully one that someone else has already mapped out for me. I’m counting on campus tours and online info graphics for details on parking. We’ll be ready when the time comes. OK, she’ll be ready when the time comes – I might not ever be ready. 

Article contributed by:
Melissa Bean Sterzick
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