I Don't Care if My Kids Go to College

Family Matters on 06.06.11
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Photo Credit: Sarah Fernandez

I grew up in a family in which education was highly stressed. There was never any discussion as to whether or not we would go to college. We knew we were going and it was our job to make sure we did the best we could in our 12 years of schooling leading up to it to get into the best college we could. Most of my friends were in the same boat. And having graduated from a prestigious high school and then gone on to graduate cum laude from college, I never thought I would say that I didn't care if my kids go to college, but it's true. Sorry mom and dad. While my children are under five years old, it's amazing how often the subject comes up with other parents of toddlers, and I just can't sit back and say that I'm dreaming of the Ivy League for my kids. When parents are discussing their toddlers not just going to college, but going to top colleges at such a young age, I have to wonder if we even remember what the point of going to college is. What it's not is for us to gain bragging rights. Not only am I not dreaming of the Ivy League, but I just don't think that a college education is always the best thing for people for several reasons.

While I did very well in college, I graduated from a liberal arts school with a major in French and minors in secondary education and sociology. I did work for two French companies after college, but I never had to use my French extensively and at this point I think I would probably be lucky to get by on a vacation with it. I thought of teaching it to my kids, but I'm not sure that I'm really proficient enough in it anymore to do so. Many of my friends are in the same boat. One is a jewelry designer who majored in chemistry. Another was a business major who works construction. The fact is that many of us don't have a clue as to what we want to do when we're 18 years old, and then we study a field which we have no interest in four years later. If I knew then what I know now, I would have majored in design and done a business minor.  Actually taking some time to find work in the field a student wants to pursue before jumping in to get the degree makes so much sense and should probably be a requirement.

As I grow older and meet people who have really honed in on their passions and are making a living at them, it makes me want to steer my children in that direction whatever their passion may be. The thought of them becoming woodworkers, organic farmers, or florist sounds wonderful to me because I think they are lines of work in which the result is so rewarding. To know you built something, grew something or created something that you are proud of and that makes other people happy makes it a lot easier to get up out of bed and head out the door with a smile on your face each morning.

And I'm not saying that these jobs don't require schooling. Whether it be on the job training or taking subject intensive course work, there are always classes that will help develop skills and make people more qualified and better at what they do, but a college degree isn't necessarily the best way to get to where you want to be, and I don't plan on pushing my kids into getting one if their passions lie elsewhere. In this recession, it has been made so clear that the people who have skills that we need on a daily basis and that don't necessarily need a college degree are the ones that are keeping their head above water the best. We are all always going to need a plumber or an electrician. We always need milk and vegetables. If my kids want to be plumbers, I will say "hooray!" because then they will have a really useful skill that they can expand upon as they want to. I will always expect them to be the best they can be at it just as my parents did of me.

If my kids really do want to go to college, I'm fine with that too. I will figure out how to dish out the tens of thousands of dollars so that they can go off and either try to find their way or follow their passions in more academic fields. We will still put money into college savings accounts. And if they choose not to go, we'll put that money towards helping them build whatever road they want to follow. Something that several people I know would have greatly benefitted from. But overall, success and happiness are not rooted in how high of a degree we attain, but in whether or not we are doing something that we love. And if our goal as parents is to raise happy, well-adjusted children who become happy, productive adults, then I'm not going to push my dreams on my kids, but rather guide them to follow their own even if it means I can't brag to friends and strangers that my kid is at Harvard.

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