I grew up in a family where going to college was the expectation. I was fortunate enough to have parents who started a college fund with my name written all over it. I chose a state school, because my parents did instill me with their thrift, and in four years I had a degree, debt free. Other than the debt I owed my parents to go off into the world and make it a better place with my college knowledge, of course.
After graduation I got married, landed a full-time job and went back to school part-time to get a master’s degree while my husband pursued his doctorate. Those were the lean years. But, I loved them because I was young, had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and loved being a student. As did my husband.
When my husband and I were finally finished with school (although I did go back to start two additional graduate degrees which would remain unfinished), we settled into our careers and decided it was time to start a family. Naturally, we started a college savings account for each of our four kids as our family grew. And as they got older we told them of our expectation that they would all go to college like we had done. It opens doors, gives you more choices and provides more opportunities we said.
We were right. Except that we were also wrong.
I can see that now that our two oldest kids are in high school. I’ve seen it with other people’s kids too. College isn’t right for everyone.
The signs had been there the whole time, and for a college educated person, it was just a shame I just couldn’t read them. Lack of interest in classes and consistent poor performance on tests. We had a kid who didn’t like school. Not due to a lack of intelligence. But simply because school wasn’t the best teacher for him. Which my husband and I couldn’t understand, because it was for us.
It wasn’t until he told us he didn’t want to go to college, which we brushed off the first few times thinking it was a passing phase. That with time he’d see the error of his ways and that we, his wise parents, knew what was right for him. It was a few years of butting heads before we began to put it all together. He’d always been a kinesthetic learner, who not only needed to use his hands, he wanted to. And while he didn’t like school he was a voracious reader. He’d even read the manual to our mini-van from back to front. Not only that, he retained all that information. Simply because things with moving parts interested him.
We were traditionalists, we loved theories, research and possibilities. He was tactile. He loved methodology, repair and things that were more finite. Forcing him to go to college because that’s what we had done didn’t make sense. Because he had different aptitudes and different goals in life than us. For two college educated people, we’d been extremely myopic thinking there was only one path to success. Or that success had only one clear cut definition that was rooted in being fiscally viable.
There’s so much more to life than money. What about doing something you love? Or feeling fulfilled at the end of the day? What about being happy? These were the things we’d always wanted for them. We’d always raised our kids to think for themselves and pave their own path. And now they were the ones teaching us to think outside the box.
College isn’t the answer, it’s just an option. I just never thought about it that way before. He could go to vocational school and be an auto mechanic, a welder or find an apprenticeship and become a glass blower. Who knows? Or maybe he’ll decide to give college the old college try for something more hands on like physical therapy. And maybe he’d decide that when he’s 30 after he’s tried some other things life has to offer. Like being a ski instructor or a river rafting guide. After all, college is always there as an option if he changes his mind. It’s not now or never.
Either way, the choice is up to him. Just like it is for my other three kids. My husband and I don’t have expectations about our kids going to college anymore. The choice and the means to get them there are here when and if they decide to. But, what we do expect is for our kids to pursue their passions in life, to live their own adventures and define what success is to them. And, of course, we want what every parent wants, for our kids to be happy.
Author: Marie Loerzei
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Steve Zerr