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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
Cair October 19, 2010, 6:33 AM

You may not want to hear this, but if he really doesn’t want to go to college, he shouldn’t go right out of high school. It’s a waste of time and money. His money, your money, the government’s money. He should get a job and work for a while. Doing this will really allow him to see if he can have a career he is happy with without the degree. More than likely in a year or two he will be quite eager to apply to college, and once he’s in he will really work and value the education. Much more so than going because it’s the only thing to do.

College costs a lot more now than it did when you went to school. Students graduate with much more debt than in previous years, and it’s debilitating once they have to start paying back loans. But fearing the cost is not a reason not to go. There are schools out there that are affordable. Even some with the very biggest price-tags end up being the most cost effective. I think it would help your son, and you, to meet with some college admissions and financial aid people to talk through his financial concerns.

Good luck! I value college educations, but hate to see them wasted.

Anonymous October 19, 2010, 7:07 AM

The job market is at a standstill now for hiring new employees, so the colleges are experiencing a huge rise in attendance, as an alternate option. Perhaps your son would prefer the more comfortable atmosphere of a community college for his basic degree requirements (courses in the 200-level). And so says he has to go fulltime? I am 57 and completing a degree that started in 1973. It’s been a long road and one which should have been taken much sooner, had I the money to do so. My educational expenses were paid after a stint in the military, as my parents would not pay for college. college was for boys who need to support families (read grandchildren) later down the road. Women were apparently suppose to get funds from their husbands. Yeah, right. I can see the desire for a break from school for a year and actually think that is a good idea for some who need to mature a bit. However, unless he’s funding his own adventure and planning to return to school in a year, forget it. Schooling gets harder as you get older but it somehow enriches classroom discussions to have a mix of people with differing background experiences. Ultimately, it will be his decision and hopefully he’ll come to realize that college opens the door to many opportunities in the job market. Maybe he’d like to study computer software or programming, a popular choice for thousands of young men. Take a few classes instead of a full load and volunteer before deciding on a major. I never could decide until recently where my talents would take me. Good luck to both of you.

bwsf October 19, 2010, 7:19 AM

W30ell, he is 16 and his mind will probably change a thousand times still. And I will just say this: I just wanted to delay college and my parents refused. It ended up being 7 years before I found a major that stuck and finally graduated. I wasted so much time and money, and now at 31 I still owe $30,000 to a state school. Just hear him out. Sure he’s not an adult yet, but he’s also not a kid anymore.

Patti Purcell October 19, 2010, 7:38 AM

I also had to pay my full way thru community college , books and all and no scholarships, I was one of 7 kids.
But you cannot force him to go, and then waht, he would flunk out. But you are being to hard on him, telling him to move out right away and pay your way. Why not let him stay home work full-time and pay a miminal rent and you can out that aside for his future house. It’s takes a lot to get an apt, and after college, my parents let me live at home, while I saved money to buy my condo, and then when I got married we sold It and that profit was our down payment on our house. Give the kids a break, don’t force him, be a little more tolerant Mom and Dad.

Anonymous October 19, 2010, 7:40 AM

One thing that every senior in high school should be aware of is this: in January of their senior year, they should immediately fill out the financial aid forms online at (the legitimate site for government grants and loans). If, in September, they decide not to attend college, then the money goes back to the feds, for other people in need. He will not lose his financial aid for the following terms, say if he goes in Winter or Spring (or Summer) terms. I missed the Winter term due to one school’s backlog of processing loans, but did attend the winter, spring and summer terms. That’s 36 hours worth of education completed toward my degree. My point is that it’s much smarter to apply for funding right away. If you try to apply closer to Fall term, the funds will not be available. So apply in January. Take preliminary classes at a fraction of the cost at community college-they are the same classes at a university, only three times the cost for the same credited class. He’ll be able to afford that. And don’t waste your time arguing with a Sophmore who, after all, has two years of maturity ahead of him. Tell him that you support his future and will rest your case for two years. He can purposely flunk his SAT scores, too and that is not what you want. If he has an inkling of what kind of job he’s interested in, perhaps he can talk to someone in that field and get some directional advice for schooling. Your son has many options and maybe this is the time for him to research alternate ways of making that dream come true.

Roni October 19, 2010, 7:59 AM

At this point, he may just be sick of school. You may want to take him around to different colleges so that he can get a feel for college life. Talk to a counselor who may be able to set him up with a college student who can show him around campus.

Hannah October 19, 2010, 8:05 AM

If he doesn’t want to go, don’t make him. My mom forced me to pick something (because I didn’t know what I wanted to go for) and get the ball rolling. Well I ended up pulling out of the courses and resenting my mom TO THIS DAY (three years later) for pushing me into something I didn’t want to do. Give him some time; he is only a sophomore. He will end up changing his mind and most likly going (because we all know that as teens, minds are changed almost every day). Good luck, and remember, don’t push…

jrosecox October 19, 2010, 8:13 AM

Wow… first, I find it interesting that having a job at a fast food place is considered a flunky. In these days, if that were the open position and I had bills to pay, I would take it in a heart beat and be proud that I did not have to fall back on my community. Second, I have a GED, failed out of college the first time and finished about half the second time and left on my own decision. I have a great job at a top Fortune company, I make above the median income for my community which is very affluent and have FANTASTIC benefits. College degrees are great and I am pushing my daughter to get one so her struggle is hopefully less than mine but it is not a guaranty. The only thing you really have is your own desire and drive to start wherever you have to start and work your way up to get as much as you can. Get out there, work your butt off and make your own way. If that includes a degree, GREAT, if not, it may take longer but you can be self sufficient and not live in your parents basement!

bobby October 19, 2010, 8:19 AM

I have to say your being alittle harsh, Yes a college education is a good resource, but if you talk to many that have gone or graduated, right now that piece of paper does not make a darn bit of difference no jobs to be had, and what if you push him to go and he bombs then the money is gone anyway. Let him find his way, maybe he can go to a junior college just to begin and work, but don’t belittle those that can’t afford to go, I know many that have had great success without a degree or with just an assoiciates. Harsh Harsh Harsh! You put that money away for him, let him find his path, and let him know that this is what we have for you. and to say also, my family runs a successful business of which no college education for anyone of the partners is in place.

really October 19, 2010, 9:12 AM

College isn’t for everyone. I have college and beyond and have been out of work for a year and a half. I would have a job if I worked in the trades. Make no mistake, I love learning and would highly encourage people to attend college but you can make a great living by being a plumber or electrician, etc. Not going to college doesn’t mean you work at Burger King. Let him put off college for now. Everyone will thank you for it, including the college!

Suzan October 19, 2010, 9:51 AM

Current unemployment rates by educational attainment: 10% for those with high school diploma only. 5% for those with a bachelors. 2% for those with professional degrees.

Income disparity is similar. $600 a week with high school. $1,000 a week with a bachelors. And $1,500 with a professional degree.

Caryn McCurry October 19, 2010, 11:14 AM

I think it might be interesting to take him to see Waiting for Superman and see what comes up for him. I also wonder about his relationship to money? I get the feeling more is going on here than just not wanting to go to college. What are his points of reference as he is making this decision? What does he envision his future as and how will he achieve it? I think being a parent is really uncomfortable sometimes and requires us making tough calls in the face of adversity. Good luck as you move through this with your son!

Kathy Christensen October 19, 2010, 11:46 AM

Has he thought about what he wants to do to support himself? Depending on the direction he wants to take, a 2 year degree may be all he needs to show an employer that he can commit to something and see it through. Have you even discussed a community college? He will get a less expensive degree in less time.

Anonymous October 19, 2010, 1:05 PM

In a way I understand his point about having his parents pay for it. He didn’t choose to be born so he shouldn’t be forced to go to college. I agree that it’s a tough world out there right now and having a college degree seems to be a significant minimum requirement but he could get a 2 year degree from a community college and find his own career path. Forcing someone to go to college isn’t going to do him any good, whereas if he just goes out and gets real-life experience he will come off better in job interviews than if he went to a school he didn’t give a squat about.

Denyse October 19, 2010, 1:09 PM

You can’t force him to go. Your job is to educate him on his options. Sit down with him armed with info on current wages for entry level jobs, rent costs, utilities, car & insurance payments, etc. Don’t dismiss his fears of the high cost of college. It’s expensive and he has to know how he will be paying for that. Be honest and upfront because hiding things from your kid only leaves him unprepared.
Trade school is a good option, and not going can be the right choice for some people. I was a good high school student, but hated college. It’s not for everyone. My husband and I both went to college, but never graduated. My husband is in upper management from working his way up through a company and I get to stay at home with my kids. We’re not rich, but we’re happy. We all choose our own path and he will resent you and do poorly in school if you force him. Help him (with an open mind) look at all his options. He will respect you more for trying to understand him. Good Luck!

Crazy Grandma October 19, 2010, 1:30 PM

I 100% understand your situation. Our son, 32 now, had is entire college at any college in the country would be paid in full for him though his grandparents lawfirm in Los Angeles. Our son loved surfing and refused to go as well. Yes, he is now a Pro-Surfer and done extremely well. HOWEVER, I told him he HAS to find some type of work that he could support himself - he wanted to be an EMT - went though the course and graduated. He became a waiter instead(?????). What I learned is that as parents, we do NOT enable them by supporting them in any way, shape or form. If they stay with you, as long as they pay rent and contribut to the household - great. If not, 30 days notice. period.

YOUR ARE CORRECT ABOUT FURTHER EDUCATION - why pay for something they will not put their best at?’

Hope this helps.

Diane October 19, 2010, 3:33 PM

I’m going through the same thing with my daughter. I even offered to pay for 2 years at the community college after she gave me the financial argument & she has an excuse for every argument I try to make. I finally gave up. She’s a senior now and I have another child to worry about.
Suddenly, this year, she told me she needed about $400 to pay for a college-level spanish class. I refused to pay for it, pointing out that she has no intention of going to college so why would I waste that kind of money? We came to a compromise, she paid for this class. If she does end up going to college then I will reimburse her next year when she is in college. Otherwise, its HER loss.
She told me that she might try “a semester or two” at the community college. I told her that she’ll have to take out student loans then because I’m not going to pay for a wasted “semester or two”. She either makes the commitment or gets a full-time job.
I’m so glad I saw your article because I felt like I was the only parent dealing with this kind of idiocy.

old sarge October 19, 2010, 6:56 PM

Give him a year to find him self but he has to pay rent and so forth. He will either get the idea and go to school or he will join the service. Oh my gosh that is what happened to me I had no direction in college, to much parting to many girls (U of Hawaii) 79-82 too much fun drop out and join the armyjust to get some more college asistance. But I got a really good job in the army, I learned to to fix medical equipment amd I got to do that around the world. I retired 9 years ago and now work in a major medical center in WA. I made it with just trade school and work experance, $85000 plus.
I guess the biggest thing is let your son be who he is as long as he is doing whats right and staying out of trouble. He may just need to see where he wants to go in life, just remember that the service can be rewarding if they pick a good job and not just be a grunt.
Old Sarge

Lori R. October 19, 2010, 11:09 PM

Wow! Do you get to pick out his wife too?

There is a definite chance that he could change his mind before he graduates, and I have no problem encouraging him to look into and apply to schools. But he has to be the one to decide to go or, as stated by others, what a waste it will be for everyone.

I considered college, but hated high school and could not bring myself to go to a four-year. I got a job and took some classes at the community college. After a year, I moved away from home (out of state), eventually got my Associates (paid for by me - with no loans - while I worked full time). I love what I do and I decide where and when I work…

which is part time so that I can be with my daughter when she is home from school. My husband, no college degree for him, works in law enforcement and makes a good living. We are not rich, but we own our home, have health insurance, take vacations and are happy. I consider my life a success and would support my daughter in whatever decision she chose as long as it was on course to be a productive member of society and not a burden.

Anonymous October 20, 2010, 7:27 AM

WHY on earth would a parent be responsible to pay for college? They should encourage and have raised the child to know that college or trade school is a necessity and that it should be paid for by the STUDENT. My husbad and I paid for our own educations and are far better off than all those over-indulged immature students who failed out on mommy and daddy’s dime.

I guess you don’t have any expectation for your children to take on any self-responsibility. You’ll just do everything for them.

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