Linda Lewis Griffith

To college, or not to college?

Junior’s just dropped the bombshell: “I’m not going to college.” He makes a vain attempt to explain his reasons. But his parents are too shocked to listen.

College attendance is an emotionally laden process in many households. From the moment their kids start preschool, some folks are planning for that first day at State. Many moms and dads base their parenting success on where their high school seniors enroll after graduation.

But for some students, college is simply not the right choice. These young men and women may have learning difficulties that make academics difficult. They may suffer from a mental disorder such as depression or anxiety that is exacerbated by the pressure of tests and deadlines. They may have interests that aren’t served by a traditional university. They may lack the motivation or maturity at 18 years of age to pursue an advanced degree. Parents often go ballistic when they realize that college isn’t in their teens’ plans. Many are concerned about their kids’ future earning abilities. Others insist that their children attend college, even if it’s completely against their will.

The outrage is apt to be especially acute among professionally successful parents who are often college graduates themselves. They frequently harbor sky high expectations for their offspring and socialize with others who hold similar beliefs.

But college attendance needn’t be the source of family conflict. Nor should parents force young adults into career paths that just aren’t right for them. Instead, they should start by listening closely to their nearly-adult children’s concerns. By granting kids the respect and control of their lives that they deserve, they set the stage for a constructive dialogue that lets everyone’s viewpoints be heard.

Next, consider your students’ academic history. If they’ve struggled from kindergarten through 12th grade, it should come as no surprise that they’re not interested in pursuing advanced degrees. Don’t punish them any further.

Let them move away from the traditional classroom.

Explore your children’s interests. They might revolve around such diverse fields as sports, music, culinary arts, adventure, fashion, animal care or agriculture. Help kids uncover the fascinating professions that are accessible without a four-year degree.

Set your own ground rules. It may be OK that youngsters don’t attend college. But it’s not acceptable for them to do nothing. If they do live at home, expect that they get a job and contribute to the household. If they choose not to abide by your rules, they must live somewhere else.

Avoid making threats or ultimatums. Statements such as, “If you don’t go to college now you’re not getting another dime!” only create hard feelings and senseless alienation. Everyone in your household is going through lots of changes. Always keep the door lovingly open.

Once children have turned 18 and finished high school, it’s time to cede much of the responsibility for their own lives to them. You may offer to pay for college tuition or a training program in a field of their choice. Then pass the baton and graciously back away.

Alternatives to attending college

Wondering what options are available if you’re not college-bound? Consider these possibilities:

Learn a trade. Get involved in a training program that provides you with an employable skill. You’ll get great hands-on experience while making contacts for future employment.

Get a job. Not sure what to do with your life? Going to work offers independence and helps you formulate the next step. It doesn’t have to be your dream job. Any employment provides experience and references for later on.

Travel. Travel broadens your outlook while exposing you to new people, locations and adventure. Hopefully you’ll buy your first tickets with money you’ve earned yourself. Perhaps you’ll be able to earn more while continuing to live abroad.

Volunteer. Join AmeriCorps. Perform conservation-related projects with the Student Conservation Association. Your hard work and the passage of more time will help prepare you for the next phase.

Join the military. Yes, the military is controversial. And some jobs carry risk. But it provides training, adventure and a chance to serve your country. It might even evolve into the career choice you’ve always wanted. Don’t be afraid to contact a military recruiter and explore options open to you.

Don’t close the door completely. Just because college isn’t right for you now doesn’t mean you won’t want more education in the future. Allow yourself the possibility to return at a later date.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit