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Do your kids really need college?

At one time, in the not-too-distant-past, a college degree seemed necessary for success. But in these difficult economic times, young people are thinking twice about strapping themselves with the heavy burden of student loans. If you have a child on the verge of this very important decision, how do you know if college is really necessary?


Parents of teenagers have many battles to face while helping their children prepare for adulthood. One of the most difficult challenges is attached to the topic of college.

Fierce competition

To find a job these days, applicants need every possible advantage. For many, the sometimes exorbitant cost of higher education is worth the potential edge it provides in the workplace. “A college education shows you’ve had the discipline to master the basics of a field,” says Stever Robbins, an executive coach and adjunct lecturer at Babson College. “Your degree may also imply access to a large network of other talented people. Employers value those things, and even if someone has the skills, they’ll lose out to someone who has the skills and the degree.”

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Now or never?

Sometimes it makes sense to attend college just because you can. Unless your child is absolutely sure she wants to pursue a specific career (and she has either the connections or the drive to actually get it done), college can open doors and expand her interests. “In terms of money, it’s costly, but in terms of life cost, the cheapest time to attend college is in your late teens,” says Robbins. “By the time you’re older and established, there may be no way you can return to college to get the benefits.” In the face of this decision, most kids aren’t thinking about their life 20 years down the road. As a parent, it may help to provide this prospective.

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Just a piece of paper?

The true value of a diploma is debatable. While you’ll find graduates on both sides of the issue, there’s little question that the way society views the college experience is changing. “In the last 10 years, the barriers to information have come tumbling down more than ever before, and a proliferation of websites and software have made it possible for those without formal education to learn on their own time and master marketable skills without incurring the debt associated with a degree,” says Sam McRoberts, founder and CEO of VUDU Marketing. “At the same time, employers are starting to realize that skill is more important than the process by which that skill was obtained.”

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Experience is invaluable

Employers and young adults alike recognize the importance of experience when it comes to marketable workplace skills. Sometimes college can provide those experiences but more often, identifying what a desirable career and jumping in with both feet is the best thing you can do.

When deciding whether or not to attend college, encouraging your child to shadow or interview a professional in a field of interest to find out the best way to gain experience in that field. The answer may surprise him. “I believe students can find education outside of the college environment,” says Leigh Schulman, co-founder of Cloudhead Art Foundation, a leadership training program for high school students. “The best way to learn is to just do something.”

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