Congratulations Muslim families with high school seniors! Alhamduleelah, it's almost time to start counting down the days or maybe you started to count down the days in September. Either way, graduation is coming and decisions about where your seniors will attend college need to be made.
While it may seem like your child's high school is the best equipped to help them make life choices ---- that's not the case. Especially for your Muslim child. Even if you have never attended college yourself, your Islamic advice, guidance, and support is very important now and forever. College is not a solo journey. Muslim parents have to prepare themselves to continue to assist and be vigilant of Muslim youth during their college years.
By now your seniors may have received tons of brochures from different colleges and universities from all over the United States. Some of these schools have dazzling campuses with the top of the line amenities, top rated athletic departments, posh dorm rooms, and fancy cafeterias. Don't dig into those appetizers too soon. Stay focused on these four things:
2. Financial Aid assistance
3. Proximity to their home (City/State)
4. Muslim population at the college/university
If your senior's dream list are made up of colleges that are cost prohibitive, help them to understand why spending more money than they have is not the right decision to make. Sit with them and watch videos on the dangers of debt, both from a secular and Islamic standpoint. Schedule an interview with friends, family and community members who have struggled with college debt. You can also talk with financial advisers at your local bank and credit unions and have them explain how destructive debt can be.
Another fact that many seniors need to understand is that an undergraduate degree is an entry level of education. Unfortunately, most undergraduate and even graduate degree holders in the United States don't command $100,000 salaries straight out of university. However, many students will graduate with $100,000 worth of debt that they will struggle to pay off.
Don't be swayed by tears from your senior or fast talking high school counselors that profess that the cost of a college or university is not important. Taking out ten's of thousands of dollars in loans to pay for a bachelor's degree is not okay nor is it in the best interest of your child's deen of dunya. If your senior has not received enough money to fully cover the balance of their dream school, cross it off the list. As Muslims we are hopeful and trusting in Allah's degree and patient with our trials. Not being able to afford their dream college is not failure! Furthermore, it doesn't mean that they will never be able to afford it. It might mean that Allah will set them up with a different route to get there down the rode.
Financial Aid Packages
Muslim parents I am going to need you all to read through the financial award letters after your seniors have read it. $40,000 worth of awards may be a combination of gift aid and self-help aid. Gift aid includes scholarships, grants, tuition waivers or any other money that you and your senior won't be required to pay back. The more gift aid - the better off your senior is! Your senior can increase his or her gift aid from maintaining a good academic record in high school, participating in clubs at school that are nationally recognized, volunteering in local and national organizations, working part-time at big box stores like Starbucks and Target that have some tuition assistance programs, and applying for scholarships from different non-profit organizations like the Islamic Scholarship Fund. Some private Islamic schools and masajid around the country also have their own scholarships as well. Make sure you ask your local community members about scholarships available in your community early. (Enshallah, #MuslimGirlsRead is hoping to start a scholarship fund next year)
The other type of awards in your senior's package could be self-help aid or in other words, loans! Federal loans usually have lower interest than loans from banks, but the bottom line is that all loans have interest (ribaa), which isn't Islamic. The interest will grow and add to the principal loan amount over time. The higher the loan amount, the more you will eventually need to pay back. Ideally, you don't want your senior to have to rely on loans. Choosing an affordable school from the beginning is crucial.
Your senior may also be offered a job through a work-study program. The work-program provides students with real jobs and pays them real checks directly. The money earned through a work-study program won't automatically be applied to their school's tuition. Your senior will have decide if she or he has the time, energy, and transportation to take on a job in their freshmen year. Any money they make through the work-study program could be saved or used for other college related expenses.
Again, Muslim parents, make sure you read carefully through your senior's financial aid award letter. Make a list of questions about any words or fees you don't understand. Talk with the financial aid adviser at the college or university that your senior is considering! It is important that you and your senior understand the financial commitment before you sign any documents.
Proximity To Home
Your senior may not like this advice - and that's okay- part of growing up is learning to handle challenges and disappointment, but I have to suggest it anyway. Don't allow your Muslim senior to attend college far away from home! Your Muslim senior still needs you and by Allah, The Watchful and The Protector, whether they will admit it or not, they will still need you be vigilant and helpful of them in order to be successful. The farther they are away, the more expensive it will be for you to visit them regularly and check on their well-being. Attending a college out of state would also incur out of state tuition, fees, and housing. Those are extra costs that won't be cheap or easily paid off after graduation. Those extra fees that may make your senior smile now, will most likely necessitate loans if their gift aid wasn't the majority of the package.
Young Muslims are just like any other youth. They are eager to take on the world and have new experiences. That's not a problematic goal and Muslim parents have to find creative ways to allow their seniors to make decisions for themselves, be responsible and accountable. However, know that your children don't have to move 100 miles away to do that and it most certainly shouldn't cost $75,000 or more to do it. It just isn't a great decision for Muslim parents of boys or girls to leave them in the care of other youngsters and academicians. Most of them won't be able to provide your children with any Islamic guidance or support. And even if your senior is headed to Harvard or Smith, they will encounter peer-pressure and unislamic ideas and practices. The closer they are to home base: their parents and Muslim community, the more apt they will be to overcome that negativity.
Discuss this point with your seniors as early as possible. Again, try to talk with them about all of the ways that staying at home or close to home would benefit them. Have them also list the cons and explain why they are against it, if they are. Be honest. Be willing to listen. Be willing to compromise. Be willing to help support them to reach the best decision for their college journey.
Muslim Population at the College
This point may not seem very important, but it can be. If your senior is not preparing to leave a Muslim high school, they may not have been exposed to many Muslim youth at their public or private non Muslim schools. It is important to the future of our Muslim communities that Muslim youth learn to communicate and work with each other. College is a great place for that sort of collective learning to take place and build or expand their networks with their sisters and brothers. Therefore make sure you ask about the numbers of Muslims attending the colleges that you visit with your senior. Ask whether the college has an active MSA (Muslim Student Association), a place for their five daily prayers to be offered, halal food options on campus and the surrounding neighborhood, and Muslim professors/advisers on staff.
Remember that it is not easy being the only Muslim in every single class. It is not easy walking around a campus and not seeing anyone who looks like you, or not receiving even one salam for weeks on end except from your parents or friends online. If there is no place on campus to pray, it is more than likely that your child will begin to miss prayers. Why would you be willing to toss your child into that type of environment and pay for it? As Muslim parents we have to start expecting more from all of our experiences that we pay for. If Muslims are not represented at the school that your child is interested in, that could be a red flag that other Muslim students were not welcomed there and/or chose to go elsewhere. Go to the local masjid in the area and ask about the college. Speak with the non Muslim students on campus about how Muslim students are treated.
Muslim parents, make sure your senior does his or her research about the schools that they are interested in and make sure you are doing your research as well. Talk about which schools your seniors like and why. The early you talking about college with your children, the better. Have your seniors set some goals. I also advise Muslim parents to talk about and visit community colleges in your local neighborhoods with your seniors. Not only are community colleges an excellent way to reduce the cost of freshmen and sophomore years, many are top notch and will provide their own transfer grants and scholarships so that your child can finish their degree at a university for half the cost. Try to also talk with college alumni at the school your seniors are interested in attending. Finally, Muslim parents you have always been a partner in the success of your children. Don't let college stop you from continuing to help your seniors embark on their next journey successfully.