Expecting Your Kid to Go to College could be the Wrong Idea

Image from caveviews.blogs.com
Image from caveviews.blogs.com

College. Everyone needs to go to college. This is what the media, the president, and most teachers tell young people.

In grade school, they start talking to you about college. What college are you considering? What do you want to be when you grow up? Yes, you need a college degree to be a fireman. Yes, you need a college degree to be a doctor.

Everyone should want to go to college. Wrong. False expectation. All America is doing by putting this expectation on their children is damaging them. Especially at a super-young (pre-teen) age.

Do I think it’s wrong to talk about college to seventh and eighth grade students? Of course not! It’s time for them to think about it. They are old enough and mature enough (sometimes) to consider the future.

When you get to high school, you have some control over your class schedule. Knowing what  you think you want to do later in life will help you make decisions about that.

Know what? A huge percentage of high school students have no idea what they want to be when they grow up or what they’re going to do after high school. Some forty-year-olds have neither grown up nor figured out their future plans.

Yet, this pressure for them to make a decision exists. Don’t they have enough stress? Give them a few years to figure it out. This expectation that young people need to know what they’re going to do with their lives by the time they’re 12 so they can be shaped into that pathway often defeats the underlying purpose.

When we force this issue, here’s what happens: Kid: “I like skateboarding. I like riding my bike and doing tricks. I’m going to be the next Tony Hawk.” (I have actually heard seventh-grade boys say this.) Adult: “No, you’re not. Less than one percent of people can go pro in that field.” (Kid effectively discouraged from dreaming but not even a millimeter closer to discovering the true ambition for his future.)

Or a kid says: “I’m going be the next NBA star.” Adult responds: “That’s a great dream. You need a backup plan, though, because only 1 in 100 college basketball players go professional.” Does this sound better to you?

As adults, we’re thinking about percentages and success. We hate the idea of setting our kids up to fail.  This doesn’t mean we have to derail their dreams with negativism. Do I think adults should be encouraging these dreams? Simply put, they need to be positive about the things children value. (How’s that for neither a yes or no answer?)

Everyone is entitled to a dream. I think the worst thing you can do is tell a kid that their dream is stupid. As a young person, I heard my parents and teachers say, “But you need to get a degree and become a teacher, professor, editor, or journalist. Then you can do that writing thing the side.”

Someone has to pay the bills, that’s true. But as a young person, I didn’t need more rain on my parade. These well-intentioned people made me doubt that my dream had worth.

What these young people who have these huge dreams (like being an Olympic athlete) need is a dose of reality, not a face plant. Research their favorite athlete in the sport they love. How many hours do they work out? How much time do they get to hang out with friends and play games?

I wasn’t willing to do what it took to attain such a huge dream. Kids need to consider reality. What’s your dream? What you want to be? What does it take to reach that dream? If you don’t want to do the work, it’s time to get a new dream. Or change your attitude about going to college for eight years or working out six hours every day of the week.

Sometimes, people turn those passions into a hobby. The guy who wanted to be an astronaut spends his weekends staring through the telescope and mapping the stars. He volunteers to teach kids at a YMCA summer camp about the different constellations. There’s a way to pursue his love without actually becoming an astronaut.

Rather than telling that kid he can’t be an astronaut, you want him strive toward it. There is a flip side for the kids with small dreams – work at the paper mill, get married, buy a house and have kids. Before we start telling anyone college is mandatory, they need to have a future plan.

We can tell them they need to graduate from high school. People need to have enough education to read contracts and understand enough to know if they should sign it or not. They need to know how to write out a cover letter when applying for a job. Yes, graduate from high school, but you don’t necessarily need to go to college.

If you want to be a mechanic, that’s trade school not college.  We need mechanics. Please, someone continue on and be a mechanic. I need my car to function and when it malfunctions, I want someone who knows what they’re doing to fix it.

When we tell young people “you have to take the traditional route: college for four years,” it’s a disservice. They do not have to go to college. What they do have to do is know their dream and how to attain it.

Image from Fire This Time

What’s your dream? What you see yourself doing? What gives you joy? If you like helping people, maybe you want to be a nurse or maybe you want to be a salesclerk at Macy’s. Both help people. The difference is in the strengths and interests of the individuals. If you want to be a nurse, you have to memorize all the bones and muscles in the body. You need a decent memory for that. You’re going to have to take chemistry classes.

Maybe this all sounds like double talk coming from me. If you’ve followed my blog for any time at all, you know half of what I wrote about was my journey in college. From the classes I was taking to the struggles of online school, I wrote thousands of words on the subject.

Do I need to have that Bachelor of Arts degree in English language and literature to be a writer? Nope. You know what I did need though: confidence. Finally getting my college degree gave me that.

Do I regret being a stay-at-home mom? Not on your life. What about all those years working at the school – as a classroom assistant, cashier in the cafeteria, and a special education assistant – so that I could have time off when my kids were not in school? All of those things are helping me now as I’m trying to write stories with realistic young adult characters.

In short, they propelled me toward my dream. If college is going to help you toward your dream, go to college.  Before you go to college, find out what you love do. If you love to cook, guess what, we need cooks, but even chefs for five-star restaurants don’t need a college degree.

The truth is, for America to succeed, we need people for the whole spectrum of unskilled to skilled to semi-skilled to professional jobs. Pushing kids into this mold that college is a necessity, doesn’t serve anyone. Least of all the kids whose dreams get crushed beneath the heels of well-meaning adults. And a media that isn’t so well-intentioned. And politicians who are just trying to win the confidence of voters.

Hundreds of people don’t want to read books or write papers. Guess what? That’s what college is about. If that isn’t your cup of Joe, then don’t settle on a dream that requires a college degree.

Too many parents push their kids to be something that doesn’t fit their personality or strengths. College is not for everyone. Furthermore, everyone doesn’t need to go to college to succeed in life. In fact, most people don’t need a four-year college degree or higher to attain their goals.

Yet, everyone talks like these kids have no future if they aren’t attending college. So, a generation of college graduates are claiming bankruptcy because they have a college degree but no job. They can’t pay back the tens of thousands of dollars they borrowed to get the degree they now realize is worthless.

College is one expectation placed on everyone that is really only mandatory for a small percentage (probably not even 50 percent of the people you know have college degrees, but they’re working a job they love).

What do you think? Does college have merit for all people? Should every kid be expected to attend at least two years of post-high school education?

What do you think? Add to the discussion here.