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.
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.