Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

They start talking about careers and colleges with our elementary school students. It’s like there’s a rush to get them locked into their cubicles (picture Matrix, only less wet and pod-like). I reject that rush and push to get our kids to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. How boring. Heading to the university straight out of high school isn’t always the right choice – and college isn’t always the right path.
Some parents struggle to get their kids to go to college; others think it is a waste of time and money. I am somewhere in between. When I was 18 and just out of high school, 23 and not focused, 26 and not sure what I wanted to be when I grew up, higher education was a pointless waste of time that just added to my student loan debt. When I was 34, had 5 kids at home, and finally knew what I want to study, it was finally worth it. And when I went on to get my master’s degree and it helped infuse my business with more credibility, it was worth every dime.
So is college worth it?
I think it depends on what your child wants to do, how motivated they are, and whether or not they’re ready. Our oldest took the SATs, looked at a few colleges, and ultimately ended up joining the Army. For him, that was the best path, and he has not regretted it. He is out of the Army now and has a great job. Our youngest is so determined to get to college that she’s skipping her junior year to graduate early and knows exactly where she wants to go and what she wants to do with her life. Kira started in one program at community college, then switched gears. Parker was going to go right after high school but decided on a gap year instead.
Those are all right decisions – each of the kids is a unique individual who needs to find his or her own path. College is only worth it when you’ll get more out of it than the money you put in.
In most cases, a person’s earnings power is higher with a college degree. But I know more than a few people who’ve gone the route of opening their own business – from a restaurant to a construction company – who make more than most people without any college debt.
Many careers these days require a college degree, even if it’s not directly applicable to the work. Having the degree can make you more competitive in certain fields. But paying for college classes without having an idea of where you’re headed can be a waste of money (just ask me and my monthly student loan payments that I’ll be paying until I die).
There is more to college than just classes. It’s a great opportunity to transition to independence, to meet new people, learn new things, and even travel through the school’s study abroad program.
If you do insist on sending your child to college right out of high school, don’t ignore the potential of vocational and trade schools. Nursing, engineering, technology and other medical fields can often require a far smaller investment while virtually guaranteeing better job prospects.
Instead of having this “all kids should go to college” drive that pretty much starts in kindergarten and never stops, let’s just let our kids discover what makes them happy and then support their dreams. There will be time enough for them to have to be grown-ups.