Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

College isn’t right for everyone. Sometimes it isn’t right because it’s the wrong college, but sometimes it’s the structure, the cost, or the ridiculous number of pointless classes you have to take to pad the tuition fees that make it unworthy. Yet college is part of the stereotypical rite of passage. Kids start being asked what they want to be when they grow up in kindergarten and start taking career assessments in middle school. By the time a student has graduated from high school, they’ve been inundated with college speeches, college prep classes, and a clear expectation that college is the only path forward. Graduate from high school, move out, go to college, get a job. Just like every other hamster on a wheel, you’re expected enter the workforce and pay bills, brain-washed to believe that you’re living the American dream.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe there can be value in college. Dave and I both have degrees that have proven to be valuable, and I never grow tired of learning. I even think about going back to get my PhD someday. However, college isn’t right for everyone – and it’s definitely not always the right choice right out of high school! Although I have a degree now, it took me several years of my adult life to get there. When I graduated high school, it didn’t take me long to realize that college life was not something I was ready for. I dropped after one semester. Over the next several years, I would return to college, maybe make it through one semester, then drop out, sometimes mid-semester. What did I accomplish? Not much. At 34, I finally was ready to go to school, really embrace the experience, and learn.

Now, my son is at a similar crossroads. He graduated high school. He enrolled in college. He moved in to the dorms. It was not the right fit – that was clear after only one weekend. College isn’t right for him. Not right now. College was not, and never is, the package high school sold him. It wasn’t an open plain of adventure and opportunity, but instead proved to be a just different box that he was expected to conform to. Parker quickly discovered that the college life was everything about high school that he never liked, simply with new rules and without the security of home. He described it as high school with a prison setting (truly, the dorms have an austere look to them).

Our kids are not being taught to be individuals, and I’m raising individuals.

Rather than remain miserable in a college dorm, Parker was honest with us. The dorm life was not for him, and he couldn’t promise himself that the coursework would be worth his time or money. It’s a fair question, especially when thousands of students are drowning in student loans with little to show for their degrees. We’ve asked ourselves that same question many times before, as the student loan bills keep piling higher.

After only a weekend of orientation activities, which were more rules and regulations than ice breakers and welcome parties, Parker was not the first of his suitemates to leave. One of his suitemates realized almost as soon as he moved in that what he had been sold was not what had been delivered. This would-be student had packed up and left after one night. Parker left the next day. Rather than regret at leaving campus, all Parker felt was relief. He truly believes he dodged a bullet, and to be honest, we feel the same. The school was helpful in cancelling his dorm assignment and withdrawing him in time to avoid costs; we returned the books he had purchased, and lost nothing more than a dorm deposit. It was an inexpensive life lesson worth the money.

The traditional college path is not for everyone.

Even when I returned to college, I was as non-traditional as you could get: I lived off-campus when 90% of the other students lived on-campus. I was a mother of 5 and a homeowner, while all of my classmates were 20 and single. I only spent two years there, having transferred every credit possible in from the other universities I’d attended and taking 20-22 credits a semester.

There are many paths to success

By convincing our kids that college is the only way is limiting their capacity for a fulfilling life. College isn’t the right choice every time. There are still many trade jobs desperate for skilled workers, yet high schools that offer trade programs are rare, and the programs themselves are limited. Many successful entrepreneurs will tell you that they achieved success without stepping foot into a college classroom, but they aren’t the ones invited to high school events to speak and inspire. And there is so much free education available online that you can learn almost anything you want to know without paying for it, but no one is going to tell you that.

My son did not fail. He tried something new, realized it wasn’t the right path, advocated for himself, and ;earned a ton about himself. Now he’s regrouping, and we are more than happy to help support him as he finds his way.

College isn’t right for everyone.

Your child doesn’t have to fit in the pre-established box. Success comes in many packages. Let your child write their own story.