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I taught college for almost a decade, and I want parents to stop forcing their kids into college. There are other options.

Rachel Garlinghouse   

I taught college for almost a decade, and I want parents to stop forcing their kids into college. There are other options.
  • Many of my college students told me they were in school because their parents forced them.
  • Parents should know that not every kid needs to go to college.

During my nine years of teaching college composition classes, I experienced a familiar student-teacher conversation on repeat. Students would confess to me — usually when we had a one-on-one about their plummeting grade — what was really going on. The overwhelming and overriding culprit of my students' college failures was their parents.

To be frank, many students were miserable. They had attempted to express to their parents that they didn't want to go to college —whether in the years leading up to high school graduation or after starting college life. Their reasons were diverse. Students were unprepared, disinterested, or inadequately supported — be it financially, emotionally, academically, socially, or physically.

No matter the reason, I chose to listen and believe my students, which is something their parents decided, for their own reasons, not to do.

Many didn't want to disappoint their parents. They were terrified of letting their parents know that money had been "wasted" or that they didn't meet their parents' own college dreams for their kids.

I wish I could have said to each of these parents that their child had other options.

Take a gap year

Yes, a gap year sounds incredibly privileged, but hear me out. Instead of parents hemorrhaging money or students going into debt for an education that won't end up in a degree and a job, a gap year could come with stipulations.

Those parameters could include the following: They must be employed part-or-full time, saving money, and working alongside a well-informed mentor to explore the next steps.

Nothing about a well-planned gap year is wasteful. Honestly, I rarely met a freshman who knew what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives. Parents, give your kid some time and wiggle room to mature and consider their future.

Consider a trade

When someone has a plumbing emergency in their home, they summon the first available plumber and (usually) pay whatever the repair cost is — no matter the sum. Desperate times call for desperate measures. That proves there is money in trade work.

The trades are a way for kids who prefer a more hands-on career to become something that brings in a great income — be it a welder, electrician, cosmetologist, dental assistant, or culinary artist.

Plus, they can usually start working earlier than their college-attending peers and accumulate less debt.

Look into community college

So many students told me their parents turned their noses up at the idea of their child attending a community college, and my question is: Why?

I attended a community college and eventually became a college teacher. Community college is cheaper, sometimes more conveniently located, and offers a less abrupt and extreme step between high school and a university.

Community colleges also can offer more of a community feel than a large university, meaning perhaps more comfortable social engagements for kids who tend to be more introverted or struggle with a social anxiety disorder.

Volunteer work is also a great option

Volunteering allows young adults to try different fields without the pressure of knowing how to do the job.

For the kid interested in veterinary medicine, volunteer at an animal shelter. For the kid interested in becoming a librarian, volunteer to gather books, stock shelves, or staff author events at a local library.

Volunteering can have a lot of value, including showing the applicant's spirit on a resume or school application.

Earn a certificate

A certificate is earned by someone who puts in hours to get an overview or a deep dive into in a particular topic or skill set. Certificate programs can take as little as a few weeks, while others can take closer to a year or more.

Students can earn certificates or engage in short programs to become nursing assistants, massage therapists, court reporters, web designers, and more.

Some programs have minimum age requirements. This again gives the late teen a way to learn more about a certain topic or field to determine how interested they are in pursuing that as a degree and then possibly a career.

These aren't the only post-high school graduation or post-GED options. The important thing is for parents to listen to their kids, understand their needs, and take a team approach, especially at this stage in their almost-grown-up child's life.

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