This is going to ruffle some feathers, especially for those of us raised to believe that a traditional 4-year (maybe more) college degree is the only way to grow up and be successful.
BUT-College isn’t for everyone!
I’m not saying college is a bad idea. It’s often the best choice for our career goals, and society needs the professions that only a college degree or two can provide. I have two college degrees myself, and I wouldn’t trade that experience (maybe the debt and a few arrogant professors) for anything. I loved my educational journey. Here’s the truth of it though: my experience isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay!
To meet my goals at the time – the path was college. A few years after graduating, I found myself teaching college freshmen at a local community college. When a student was struggling to stay afloat, I would take them aside after class or ask them to meet me during my office hours. When I asked what was up, I would hear the same kinds of narratives over and over again. The most common one? My parents are making me do this. These students hated traditional school.
Now, you might think, “Well, the parents are making them go to college because the student doesn’t have a real plan.” Sometimes that was true, but MOST of my students had solid plans for what they really wanted to be doing in life. These plans often included trade school, the military, or some other type of professional training. I would see their eyes light up when they talked about their passions. And I could see it so clearly for them! In my head, I would be screaming, “Yes, you would be amazing at that! Go, do that!” I don’t hold the power though. I wished so badly I could sit down with the parents and tell them what wonderful potential their kids had to pursue their own passions.
I understand, the support system often holds the power. If parents (or other support people) are paying for college, the students still live with them, or they are supporting them in some other way – students often do what their support system wants. Oftentimes, when a parent has a certain dream or plan for their kids, it’s hard to let that go. Whether the parent has bias about non-college graduates or they want something “better” for their kids – it’s hard to let that dream go. I totally get it. The hard truth is, so many of these students are creating a lot of debt and stress to obtain something they didn’t even want -for someone else’s dream. More often than not, these students will drop out in the first few semesters of college. They will have to start over again, and if they took out student loans, those don’t magically go away.
I do believe everyone should find something that they are passionate about, that also allows them to support themselves and be productive members of society. That’s why I’m a huge advocate of vo-tech/trade schools, community colleges, and other types of job trainings. These are where many of our plumbers, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, healthcare professionals, construction workers, hairstylists, EMTs, truck drivers and so many other professions come from! The military is also a valid option for some. The world needs all of these professions, and they are essential to our society!
I would encourage all parents to sit down with their kids while they are still in high school and discuss all the options with a non-biased, open heart. If your student has college-alternative interests, be open to touring and exploring those options too. There are so many paths to success, and it isn’t always black and white, and it isn’t always a traditional 4-year college.
I believe the end goal for most parents is to raise an adult child who is happy, healthy and can support themselves – hopefully doing something they love.