“Maybe. It depends on what she wants to do.”

That’s our new answer when people ask me and my husband if our teen-aged daughter will be going to college in a few years. We used to say “I don’t know.” and look confused, back when the question was new to us. Now, we’ve got the answer down pat. And it’s even the truth!

My husband and I both believe that going to college is not inextricably tied to being eighteen or nineteen. In my case, college would have perfect for me when I was sixteen and drowning in boredom in high school. For my husband, college was a big mistake at eighteen and finally worked out very well at twenty-something. While in college, at twenty-one, I took a year off, because my father was dying and all the free time my liberal arts education generously allowed was only serving to give me too much time to brood. Commuting to New York City every day for a year to proofread the Yellow Pages was a much healthier way to treat my troubled psyche.

My husband and I both have college degrees, and I know that a long time ago we both felt superior to people who didn’t. We have a dear friend who graduated high school and then became an autodidact. He’s one of the most intelligent men, one of the most complex thinkers we know, but before we became enlightened, we would have said to each other, “Ah, but if he would only go to college . . .” That attitude is gone now. We’ve learned a lot since then — thanks to living without school and all of the assumptions and prejudices that school brings into people’s lives.

As for our daughter’s future, it’s in her hands and in her heart. If she wants to pursue a passion, and a college degree is part of the recipe, we will fully support her in attending college. If she wants to “try” college, we’ll support that, too. And if she decides to work at the corner bakery when she’s old enough, we’ll support her in that — and be grateful for the occasional day-old rolls she might bring home.

The world is changing, I believe. The current view of a college degree as the single key to a happy, successful life has been disproved, in my opinion, by the current financial crisis. No one can guarantee financial security for their children by providing them with a college education. No one can guarantee financial security for anyone at all. So, instead, let’s try to encourage our children to aim at happiness.

I think college should be optional — like black tie, or like checking off the box next to your ethnicity. The world should ask, “Would you like college with that?” and ask no further questions if the answer is no.

“So, will ___ be going to college soon?”
“Maybe. It depends on what she wants to do.”

Practice it a few times. It isn’t hard to say. I promise.


4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Sunnymama said,

    Great response! I need to make a note of it. Sunnyboy is only 2 yrs but this answer would still apply to some questions I am asked about him.

  2. 2

    Ordinary Jo said,

    I love this entry.

    When I was of college age, it was just assumed that each sibling in my family would choose a major, go to college for four years, and work in our chosen career for the rest of our lives. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong career, and even knew it part way through my college experience. But in my family, it was unacceptable to make a change and take extra time in school, or even take time off from it. I just brushed away my feelings that I wasn’t pursuing the career I should and “stuck it out”. I won student awards within my major and even graduated at the top of my college class–into a career that never fit me that well. I worked in my chosen field for about eleven years. Then I had to leave it behind, for my own well-being and sanity.

    Academically, I was ready for college, but emotionally and practically, I was not ready to choose a major so soon. I always encourage kids of college age not to put themselved into a pigeonhole too soon, unless they are absolutely sure.

    I have many good friends now who never went to college or who chose tech school or alternative education over college. Whatever route one chooses is alright, as long at it is right for him/her as a person.

  3. 3

    Lisa said,

    I know exactly what you mean and kudos to you for saying it! I spent my first four years at Ohio State “trying out” different majors. I didn’t know that I wanted to be a teacher until I graduated (with a psych. degree of all things). Then I went off to grad school to really work on my dream. I probably could have saved a ton of money if I would have waited a few years.

  4. 4

    Terri said,

    Thank you very much for your words of wisdom! Our son who is a Junior in HS is not sure what he wants to do. Your encouraging words are a God-send! We are not going to trouble over this issue. We will be patient and wait for him to decide what he wants to do. We are just so blessed he is 17 and a Great Kid! We LOVE HOMESCHOOLING!

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