20 Things We Forget About College

As parents, we forget some things along the way to launch our little adults into the world. Maybe we didn’t know these things in the first place. There’s no doubt that we haven’t always shared the workforce changes that are clear to the experienced.


  1. The most important thing is to research and choose a career. That will tell them if college is even necessary to achieve it. It usually isn’t for the first few years or more on a job.
  2. Accept that they may want jobs of which you don’t approve. In other words, they may not require college.
  3. They can have a gap year. They’re usually more interested in becoming free adults than in more school. This also helps if they’re undecided about a career.
  4. They shouldn’t be undeclared. Before you say it worked for you or someone you know, check the stats on that path. The time and money spent are non-refundable. Do more of them complete a program or drop out of college? If they graduate, how many of them don’t change careers by age 40? Did they finish under outside pressure or did they reach a professional conclusion? How much do they make in comparison to those who followed through from the start?
  5. Some students drop out despite talking a good game. Find out why. Living someone else’s dream, losing sight of a goal they don’t fully support, and hating school are a few reasons.
  6. College doesn’t take all day. This means that full-time students’ courses generally take less time out of the day than high school did. That leaves time for everything elseā€”part-time work, socializing, studying, and sleep. High school students wish the school day ended at noon. In college, the schedule can be arranged to facilitate that.
  7. They should work part-time and only in jobs pertaining to their majors. The advantage is that they can do it part-time, which is anything less than 40 hours a week. Sure, we know that, but where does it show? Anyway, no more of those Starbucks jobs to pay their share of the rent. Unless their career focus is on finance or retail…This era of their lives may be the only instance where they can risk this.
  8. It isn’t a magic bullet anymore if it ever was. Have we forgotten that if most people send their kids to college, more of them will end up closer to the bottom of the pyramid than the top?
  9. They may not make big bucks. The idea is to avoid poverty, not to keep up with the Joneses. We lose sight of that.
  10. We’re being vicarious and using them to achieve what we didn’t. There’s a lack of objectivity there. At some point, their dreams for themselves outweigh our dreams for them. Let go. The kids can handle it. We raised them, didn’t we? Meaning well but should step aside.
  11. Get an associate’s degree (or a certificate) along the way. Somewhere this can pay. Get all the gems possible while running from the monster. Isn’t that in a video game?
  12. Find an employer who will pay for that associate’s degree (or certificate). If they do make enough to be independent, the goal has been met! More college is optional then. Breaks are allowed.
  13. We don’t suggest that they act like adults even though that’s what they are. They can choose which days they attend school. Not having to go daily is a plus.
  14. Majors matter. They are not arbitrary. Some pay more. Others will compensate them well regardless of a lack of experience.
  15. We stress the four-year degree yet frown on the certificate and associate’s degree. Some students only have enough motivation to achieve one of these. If so, let it ride. It’s their truth, not ours.
  16. We hiss and throw the stink eye at vocational education because of for-profit schools. There are other places to get it. High schools and county government agencies are two examples.
  17. Employers pay for college. Encourage them to get jobs in industries they like. Anything can happen if a job (or culture) is the right fit.
  18. Have them find mentors for the careers they think they want. Do this whether they work, volunteer, or intern. These people can tell them if and when a degree will be necessary. It also initiates professional networking, which has proven success.
  19. It’s not all about making money. Telling them to aim for the highest of incomes could promote greed and materialism. Money doesn’t solve every issue. It can also create new ones.
  20. They can afford to make half of what you think they should. Roommates make this reasonable. Neither scenario has to be permanent.

Did I miss anything? Do you disagree? Was I clear? Tell me in the comments.


Why People Support College by Default

It’s time to talk about the $40,000 bet. You know…putting up a large sum under the premise that college equals life success for students. That’s a concern for those who avoid gambling (or should). Much hype is behind this tradition, including the SAT, ACT, extracurricular activities, and tons of academic pressure throughout high school. The truth is more detailed but less complicated.

Parents think they have to fund higher education. They seem to forget employers can also do this. Of course their employers can, but how about their kids’ employers? Mom, Dad, and teachers all know about the job market. The rose-colored glasses show up when they talk about their children. Undeclared is a bad idea to back with that much money. Community college isn’t the punishment or hindrance some believe.

As is true for high school graduates, college success depends largely on the major and what experience is or isn’t gained in the pursuit of it. Exceptions do exist.

Independence is the point.

Everyone is different. The cookie-cutter approach to schools and tradition in general directly clashes with school choice. If public schools work for your situation, great. It’s your responsibility to make changes if that isn’t meeting the goal.

Never forget that the point of K-12 education is to develop functional, independent adults. College by default is a mistake. Students should feel comfortable telling the peers and adults in their lives what they really think. Those people should be grateful that the students are sharing their truth with them.

Losing sight of the finish line (the tombstone, not any graduation) is what complicates the existence we have. If we are honest with students and ourselves about what all the options are, everyone can breathe freely, calmly, and deeply. Would you add four years to adolescence if you could?