Did the headline get your attention? I hope so. I can hear the questions:
“But I thought all kids should go to college?”
“What else are they supposed to do?”
“I want my child to have the best opportunities in life!” (Okay, that one isn’t really a question).
What if I had added a small word at the end of that sentence: yet.
As a father of three children, I have been forced to ask myself whether college makes sense anymore.
We have been conditioned over the last few decades to accept a recipe for our children once they reach high school.
1) Study hard.
2) Get A’s and B’s.
3) Take the SAT or ACT until your score is high enough to get into the colleges you want to get into.
4) Apply to a college that has some sort of panache for you, your parents, or your peers.
5) Get accepted to one or many of those college(s).
6) Choose the dream college and pick a major.
7) Live happily ever after.
There are several realities today that make that recipe outdated.
The pressure. Teen anxiety and depression have risen dramatically over the years. The acceptance criteria for colleges has also become more and more stringent. So, for a teenager, following the prescribed recipe above means that they have to study harder than in the past to get good grades and must score higher on the SAT/ACT to get into college.
The cost of college has risen dramatically. Any quick search of the internet will show just how much these costs have risen. Yes, there are less expensive colleges out there, but even with less expensive colleges, you and your teen are not looking at a small investment. This education will cost 30 to 300,000 dollars. That is just a fact. If you are rich, the cost isn’t an issue. But for all other families, this is a huge issue. Aid will help those that need it the most, and I don’t discount how wonderful a reality that is for those that come from homes that struggle. For those considered middle class (a constantly changing bracket), you and your teen will be looking at paying a large amount towards college.
Once the teen has lived through the stress and anxiety of studying hard, achieving good grades and test scores, and finally choosing and accepting a school requiring them to take on debt, they are left with the reality of picking a major that, with luck, lines up with their desires and provides a viable future for earning a living. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 80 percent of college students change their major at least once.
Graduates are finding it much harder to enter the work force at 22. People are working longer, companies are more selective, and there is global competition for all jobs that might line up with the desires of the recent graduates.
The reality is that not only is the pressure causing problems with teenagers’ mental health, science has shown that we are asking teenagers to make decisions that they are not ready to make.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, it doesn’t matter how smart teens are or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Good judgment isn’t something teenagers can excel in, at least not yet. The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.
The recipe must change. Other countries have figured it out. In Switzerland, for example, children are not expected to go to college right out of high school. They choose a trade, and they are paid while they learn, placed right next to adults. If they choose to stay in this trade, then they have a job and a path to grow in that job. If they choose higher education, they can do that as well. They can start higher education after learning a trade. They are older when they make that decision and are not trapped by it: they are allowed to move between vocation and higher education if they choose to do so.
This article is not meant as a criticism of the education system in the U.S. but is meant to offer a different recipe.
1) Do your best in high school.
2) Take or don’t take the SAT/ACT, but don’t put pressure on the decision.
3) Go to a trade school (like Emily Griffith in Denver, for example).
4) Work in that trade for a while to earn money and experience
5) Decide whether to go to college as an adult. (This also provides more flexibility when asking for aid, as the parent’s financial situation doesn’t come in to play).
6) Choose a major based on much more life experience.
7) Graduate with a plan and a fully developed brain to face the world
I’ve got three children. One of which is already in college. Before our child went to college, I read many books, I consulted friends, and I even hired a local agency that specializes in helping kids navigate the process of applying for college. I also filled out the FAFSA form (only to be notified that there would be little-to-no help coming). The plan was to be informed and not to fall into a situation where a mountain of debt was headed our way. We had already had the conversation with our child about the reality of what we could provide, and the reality of what our child may have to incur as debt. The reality of looking my children in the eye and telling them that I couldn’t afford to pay for all of the colleges they want to go to was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. But that is a topic for another article.
In the end, my eldest child chose the school that offered the best financial situation. It wasn’t a dream school, but it was a very beautiful school. Currently my children are still in school and doing well. But the pressure of it all has taken a toll.
If we adopted Recipe #2, we could end up with healthier and happier kids (less stress and anxiety), less debt for them and for us, a clearer idea of their future, and more time for them to grow and mature.
Seems like a win/win situation to me.
Originally published on http://www.williamsonhouse.com/wordpress/?p=66367
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