Even though our oldest is only in the fourth grade, my wife and I have already started thinking about college for our kids.
We’ve done the responsible thing and, a couple years ago, started a college fund for our kids, but that’s where things got tricky. My wife and I aren’t even sure we WANT our kids to go to college, at least not immediately after graduating high school.
I know it’s different for everyone, but I definitely wasn’t ready for college at age 18.
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, blew off many of my classes, changed my major several times, was put on academic probation for a semester, and finally graduated after five years of mediocrity as a student.
It wasn’t until I returned to college for my teaching certification, when I was in my mid-twenties, where I went to class, took my experience seriously, and got straight A’s (except for one B, grrr).
I was fortunate, my undergraduate floundering took place at a state school, in the 1990s (when tuition was way cheaper), leaving me with minimal debt. Today there are many like me, just as lost and apathetic toward college as I was, but now dealing with six-digit student loan debt.
So why do most people who can afford college (or get approved for student loans) feel they need to go immediately after high school? Why is that the expectation?
If we choose not to do this for our kids, what are some of our options?
The older I get, the more I realize that getting a job has to do as much with who you know as with what you know. I don’t know a lot of higher-ups in companies, but I know people who know people who are running companies. If our kids have an interest in a particular field, we’ll try to steer them toward an internship so they can learn a bit about that particular industry.
We’re also open to our kids spending time volunteering to help figure out what type of work they want to do and what they are good at. A person can learn a lot about themselves by spending time tutoring at-risk kids, feeding the hungry, or working with injured or abandoned animals.
Even if our kids just want to take some time to travel, we’re OK with that too. We have extended family scattered around enough places, our kids could bounce from place to place, trying to figure out where they would like to live, along with what they would like to spend their time doing.
Once they do figure things out, it doesn’t necessarily mean a four-year school is the answer. Maybe one of our kids wants to go to culinary school, or go to a technical school and learn to become a mechanic.
We don’t know what the future holds for our kids. But we do want them to feel like they have options when they get older and the next step after high school doesn’t necessarily have to be directly into a four-year college.
A version of this first appeared on Indy’s Child.