For as long as I could remember, my mother said I was going to college. This was not a suggestion; it was a fact. I spent my entire four years of high school stressed about where I would go. I had no clue what I wanted to study or what I wanted to be as an adult.
Neither of my parents went to college. It was my mother’s dream that my sisters and I would go off to college to become someone “important,” like a doctor, an engineer and a lawyer. Fast forward many years later, she got one of the three: the lawyer. I ended up being the writer and my younger sister an Army officer. She learned to live with that.
She does manage to remind me of what a brilliant engineer I could have been.
Now that I have my own kids, I understand the desire to see them succeed. Yet, my definition of success is far different from what I was taught. Sure, society wants us to believe that to be successful, you need to be highly educated, make good money and live in a nice home. It’s ingrained in everything. I want something different for my kids. I do want them to be successful, but not on society’s terms.
I homeschool my two sons. I know their academic strengths and weaknesses intimately. My eldest asked me not too long ago if he had to go to college. I told him no, not if he doesn’t want to. My mother nearly had a heart attack. She demanded to know why I would tell him such a thing. I told her that going to a university for four years doesn’t guarantee success or knowledge.
Moreover, sometimes a 17- or 18-year-old is not ready for college. Sure, at that age they are allowed to vote and join the armed forces, but honestly, many of them lack the maturity to handle independence.
Think about it.
Kids live with their parents for 18 years. They are fed and looked after. Sometimes they are allowed to work after school or on the weekends. Then when they graduate, they are sent off to a four-year university. They are expected to be responsible adults and make decisions about their future. Yet, have they been taught to be independent? I know there are exceptions, but honestly, I feel that a little time working before they head out to college can make a difference. Or, perhaps while they are working, they will discover they really do not need to get a degree to be successful.
I did go to college, managed to have two majors and finish in four years. An eye-opener for me was on my graduation day. More than a third of my classmates who took part in the ceremony were not receiving a degree that day because they were a semester or two short on credits. They spent the first year in school with either no clue about what they wanted to study and/or indulging in their independence. At $25,000-plus a year, there was no way I was extending my undergraduate studies. I got my work done in four.
I still see it — kids taking more than four years to earn a B.S., dropping out or, even worse, getting a degree and still not being able to get a job in their field. Some kids are not ready at 18, or they are not academically inclined. My point is, you know your child’s strengths and weakness. My eldest is more academic than my youngest so far, but in a few years that might all change.
However, college is not mandatory for them. If they want to go, I will provide whatever tools and encouragement to help them succeed. If they do not, I will help them seek an alternative; they don’t get a free ticket to live off of me. They will have to have a plan for how they plan to live on their own.
I often look back and wonder whether if I had the choice, would I have chosen differently. Who knows? All I know is that I will give my kids a choice, regardless of what I think is best for them. In the end, they will need to put forth the effort to make themselves successful. My job is to encourage and support them. No, I’m not making my kids go to college, but I will help them to be happy, independent adults.