100 dollar billsOur oldest daughter is often reminded of the fact that she is our guinea pig, but this may be the most guinea-pig experience of all. I’m writing this so that others can gain from our experience and avoid making the mistake we made.

She graduated from homeschooled high school last May. Rather than heading straight to a university, she wanted to spend some time discerning the possibility of a religious vocation. She has since gone on several come-and-see retreats with various communities and is still pondering whether God is calling her to a convent, but at this point, she has determined that her best next step is a Catholic university.

She did all of this with my husband’s and my complete support, but at the same time, I said that while discerning she should either get a job or take classes at the community college. In the end, she did both. She got a job working at our local Catholic school as a preschool aide, and she signed up for the general education certificate from the local community college and has been taking classes toward that. In fact, the community college cost nothing since she got a scholarship and financial aid–or so it seemed.

As soon as she started applying to universities, we discovered a problem. Maybe you already knew this, but by virtue of taking even one single community college class after graduating from high school, colleges now see her as a transfer student. Somehow I had it in my head that as long as she stayed below 30 credit hours and thus retained her status as a freshman, that would not be the case. Unfortunately, I was wrong, and it was a very expensive mistake. Because colleges see her as a transfer student, she is no longer eligible for the biggest scholarships offered by colleges–the ones they give freshman–and she is also no longer eligible for many private scholarships because those are largely targeted at freshmen as well. She has been offered a substantial scholarship at the university where she is planning to go next year, but it is considerably less than she would have gotten as a freshman.

In spite of all this, the year has proven fruitful in many ways. She is going to university more sure that that is what she wants, she has learned to juggle college classes and a fairly demanding job at the same time, and she has gained confidence from doing superb work in all her community college classes and getting A’s to match the work she has done. And she might even have a few credits to transfer to the 4-year university.

I suspect that all of these factors will help her to do very well at the 4-year Catholic liberal arts university where she is planning to go next year. Nonetheless, if I had it to do over again or if another one of our children chooses to take a gap year for whatever reason, we will know NOT to have him or her take classes at the community college unless circumstances are very different.