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My Son Doesn't Want to Go to College

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Guest blogger Mary: As my son was growing up, he never knew that going to college was optional, because my husband and I never let on that it was. Whenever we talked about it, we were always careful to say, "When you go to college," not "If you go ...." Technically, he always did have the choice, but we certainly weren't going to point out that fact to him. He was going, and that was that.

My Son Doesn't Want to Go to College
He's now a sophomore in high school, and he has done well -- his teachers doubt he'd have any problem getting into a decent school. Except that he's just announced he doesn't want to go. "It'll take too long to pay it all off!" he says, and (I love this one), "Other parents pay for their kids' educations. You shouldn't have kids if you can't pay for them to go. It's not fair! It's too expensive!" 

Yeah, it's expensive, but it's not like we expect him to pay for an Ivy League education. Suddenly he thinks it's not necessary to have a degree to have a career. Perhaps that's true ... if he's aiming to be senior fry cook at Burger King. He's naive. He has no idea what it means to be an adult in the real world. I'm willing to let him learn on his own, too; it's just that I'd prefer he do it with a diploma. 

He's always been told he'd have to be responsible for part of his tuition. It's not like we suddenly announced, "You're on your own, kid!" He's known that, like the both of us, he'd have to pay for a lot of it, through a combination of work, financial aid and scholarships. My husband's and my parents couldn't afford to pay our tuitions, but we never considered not getting a degree. We'd never be where we are now without one. We've explained to my son that, most of the time, it's not that one technically needs the degree to do a job (most of us learn on the job, anyway), but that you need the degree to be considered for the job. And let's not forget to mention the experience of college itself that he'd be missing, which is a good stepping stone into the real world. 

We've tried to talk sense into him, but he insists it's not our decision to make. Once he's 18, that may be true. But since he's only 16 and we're still the bosses, he still has to prepare himself as if he's going to college. He's got to take the SAT and he's got to apply to some schools, at least, and open some acceptance letters. If he decides, after all that, that he still doesn't want to go, we can't force him. But he has been informed that the day he graduates from high school, he'll need to move out, get his own apartment and start working to support himself. "Start saving now," we told him. "You'll need a security deposit to be able to get your own place." 

He'd assumed he could simply use the money from his college fund (we did have some money we'd saved to send him to school), but was told that the money would go back into our bank account if it didn't go toward his degree. This dose of reality is the only card my husband and I have to left to play, and it's gotten my son thinking about his choices.

Welcome to the real world, kid.


next: Give Your Kids a 'Green Allowance'
80 comments so far | Post a comment now
XXXX October 14, 2010, 7:32 AM

Make him go. Other wise he’ll end up working a crappy low paying job the rest of his life!

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 8:14 AM

What about him learning a trade. Usually 1-2 years in school then working to get his journymen statues. Journeymen can own their own business and have an excellent career with very good wages. If he decides later he would like to have a degree he could go to school and use his trade to work part-time and help pay for his education. Nothing wrong with a trade as they are high demand.Many students with degrees that cannot find work.

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 8:19 AM

What about a trade? Usually 2 years in school then after school working with a journeymen to reach his own journeymen status. He could become a business owner with an excellent wage and career! Trades are in very high demand. Many people with a degree can’t find work.

Nancy Reid October 14, 2010, 8:32 AM

My son graduated but can’t find a job because he has a degree but not any “specific” certification. There are many technical certifications in the medical fields and elsewhere. Let your son be his authentic self and find his way. Book knowledge is not all that right now anyway.

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 8:38 AM

Have him get a summer job. Let him see what is available without a college degree.

Pamala October 14, 2010, 8:58 AM

Actually I think it’s very important not to force a kid to go to college if they don’t want to. I was forced to go to college and because I didn’t want to be there I promptly failed out. It wasn’t until five years later that I felt college was something to do and I graduated with a 3.98 GPA. Some kids aren’t ready for school. I did though during the in between time get an Insurance License for every state in the nation and was an insurance agent. And I made enough to survive on my own from the age of 18. So there is a possibility to get a good job, a career (which I had) without a degree, you just have to know what to do. Now I have a degree and can’t get into the field that degree is in, but what do you know, insurance agencies would love to have me back. And I didn’t get one of those worthless degrees, mine was in education.

Leah October 14, 2010, 9:08 AM

Other parents pay for their kids’ educations. You shouldn’t have kids if you can’t pay for them to go. It’s not fair! It’s too expensive!”

WOW what a self-entitled attitude!! My parents couldn’t afford college - not even a penny to help so I put on my big girl pants and I paid for all 50k of my education and yes I have oodles of student loans but it’s a debt I’m proud to have (I went to the LEAST expensive school in my area while working full time). Why on earth would kids think their parents are responsible to foot the bill for an education that they NEED to support themselves? Ridiculous.

That said if he doesn’t want to “waste” his money on college, what about a trade school? He’ll see results of his spending immediately as he learns his trade.

Either way, if he says he’s done with school after high school I agree he needs to move out and support himself. I’d give him the boot and let him see how far he gets in the real world without any skills, education or trade

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 9:12 AM

“Book knowledge is not all that right now anyway.”
How ridiculous!
‘Book knowledge’ and a decent education will always be indispensable, regardless of economic climate etc.

As a current student, I would say push him so that he knows and fully understands the importance of it, and the disadvantage he will be at without a college education, as well as how the money will always be worth it. But, not to the point that he just wants to rebel.
Two years is a very long time to us student types anyway, he could do a complete turn around, I wouldn’t worry so much about it right now. It’s good that you’re getting him to apply, just make sure he actually researches the schools and doesn’t just apply anywhere to keep you happy and quiet.

sarah b October 14, 2010, 9:39 AM

Wow, get off your high horse! Let him be himself! If he doesn’t want to go, are you going to force him to go, get a loan,and then drop out or be kicked out and be stuck in debt! Listen to yourself! If you want what is best for him, allow him to find his own way. Do you want him to go to college so that he gets a good job or because you feel he is a failure if he doesn’t live up to you? Not everyone is meant for college. Who knows, maybe a trade is better for him. This isn’t about you and it isn’t your life so stop complaining and support him, not bring him down!

sarah b October 14, 2010, 9:41 AM

Wow, get off your high horse! Let him be himself! If he doesn’t want to go, are you going to force him to go, get a loan,and then drop out or be kicked out and be stuck in debt! Listen to yourself! If you want what is best for him, allow him to find his own way. Do you want him to go to college so that he gets a good job or because you feel he is a failure if he doesn’t live up to you? Not everyone is meant for college. Who knows, maybe a trade is better for him. This isn’t about you and it isn’t your life so stop complaining and support him, not bring him down!

Gemma October 14, 2010, 9:46 AM

A few things to agree with (from other posters): 1) Trade school is a wonderful alternative; 2) Parents have NO requirement to pay for their children’s college educations. Sure, it’s nice if you can, but why, why, WHY do kids think it’s mandatory? Get a job, get a scholarship, get loans. You’re an adult now.

Ok, with that being said, college is NOT for everyone. Many people are quite successful and happy and well off without one. If you don’t go to college, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to be the 45 year old junior manager of Burger King while still living in your parents’ basement.

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 10:08 AM

Why do you feel college is the only way to earn a decent living? How about trade school - plumbing, carptentry, electrician - they are all high paying jobs that he could train for during or after high school and contribute something to the world beside being another white collar, non-producing pencil pusher

Kristen October 14, 2010, 10:55 AM

You know it frustrates me that we have this attitude in our country now. Good grief people not everyone can go to college and if they did who would serve you at a restaurant? For society to work you have to have people doing all sorts of things. It angers me to no end that in this country the almighty dollar and profits are valued more than human beings. Why is it ok for a college educated person to have paid vacation days, sick days, and most importantly HEALTH INSURANCE but for the low life who chose not to go to college, well he doesn’t deserve to have a decent life, although he probably works longer hours than most. Our country is headed in a very bad direction if this continues.

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 11:06 AM

“Wow, get off your high horse! Let him be himself! “

Well then he can darn well be himself in his OWN apartment that he pays for with the job he gets without a college/trade school education. Yeah, good luck with that.

He can be himself BUT he needs to be able to support himself.

Leah October 14, 2010, 11:13 AM


“…whoe chose not to go to college, well he doesn’t deserve to have a decent life…”

The one without the college or trade school chose not put the investment into his future. Certain jobs -those that require people to earn degrees and/or go to trade school also earn the vacation time, a job that comes with health benefits, etc.

The above is a prime example of how self-entitled people have become - they think whether they train themselves or not, go to college or not, they deserve equal perks and benefits (paid for by those who did go to college/trade school). If that’s the case why should anyone go for further education? We should all just do what we want, but expect insurance and vacation time? I think not. I worked my butt off to put myself through school on my own dime. I invested in my future. If others choose not to, that’s fine, but they can’t expect the same fringe benefits.

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 11:23 AM

You do realise that some of the most successful people in the world don’t have college degrees, right? Bill Gates would probably be the most relevant example.

Your son’s life is his life, not yours. It’s your job as a parent to support his decisions and guide him along his chosen path, NOT to simply ignore the choices he makes for himself.

Another question to consider is what does he actually want to do with his life? Most people have ideas while they’re in school. His ideas are what’s more important - does he want to do something that would require a degree; is it trade that he’s looking at; would he like to travel or work in literature? Instead of focusing on the negatives - not going to college - maybe you should try to focus on the positves, on things he DOES want to do.

I’m also curious as to how you can take his college money back? I’m from the UK. In the UK if parents open a bank account in the name of their child, then that money becomes the child’s. The child doesn’t have access to it until they’re sixteen or eighteen (can’t remember which) but it’s still legally theirs. Parents aren’t allowed to take it back.

Kristen October 14, 2010, 12:17 PM

Leah their are plenty of benefits to having a college degree like more money and bigger houses, better vacations ect… What I DO NOT believe is that your life is more valuable because you have a college degree. Every person deserves to have health insurance and paid sick leave. Again society cannot function without many people doing many different things, just because you have a degree doesn’t make you better than someone else.

Pamala October 14, 2010, 12:26 PM

Did you know we’re one of the few nations that push our kids to attend college and have colleges and universities open to all residents? This isn’t typical. Is other countries you have to test into a college or you don’t go and if you can’t test in you go to trade school instead. Want to know what’s wrong with this country? The belief that everyone is entitled to go to college in the first place and that by having that degree they somehow are better in that career area. Hardly. Anyone can learn book knowledge, not everyone can apply it. My husband has no college at all, is self taught and does very well in his area.

Anonymous October 14, 2010, 12:41 PM

Every person deserves to have health insurance and paid sick leave

Not if they choose to go into a job field that doesn’t provide it. If they choose not to go to college or trade school then they have CHOSEN not prepare themselves for jobs where health and insurance and paid sick leave are common. They can buy their own insurance. Seriously, people need to stop expecting those of us who put the money, time and effort into their futures to make sure that those who don’t want to do so are insured and get sick leave. Beleive me I come from a poor, uneducated, uninsured childhood so I knew how important it was to get myself inline for a better future.

Ani October 14, 2010, 12:43 PM

Parents aren’t allowed to take it back


Then the UK is flipping crazy!! The kid didn’t earn the money- it’s his parents’ money that they ear-marked for college, not for him to go and have a good time with.


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