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After You Walk Across the Stage – To College or Not to College

graduation then college?

After You Walk Across the Stage – To College or Not to College

I could write an entire blog about the damage a teenage boy can do by forcing a girl to lose herself in his attentions, because right now, in this particular situation, my 18-year-old Little Sister is about to lose her chance at college… all because of a boy. She has gotten into 3 schools and has a free ride. But he’s trying to talk her out of it, for reasons that make no sense to me. I am trying to put my foot down, but love can lead to madness… and very poor decisions.

At a dinner the other day, a colleague was telling me about a young man who decided that he wanted to play in a rock band instead of going to college. Ten years later, no college, no skills, he went to trade school for HVAC. In Florida. Goodness, he had plenty of work; there is nothing more important than air conditioning in Florida. But he found himself wondering if he wanted to be climbing on rooftops in the Florida heat for the rest of his life. With a house note, a wife and kids to support, he could not simply stop life and go to college. The window was closed as far as he was concerned, and he found himself regretting the decision he made in his youth.

So, I am trying to talk some sense into my Little Sister. The boy, I call him that to respect his humanity and not call him other names, does not want my niece to go to college because it messes with his personal timeline, and he does not plan to go to college himself. He’s going to trade school to become a plumber, which I am all for. But my Little Sister’s options are limited if she does not add to her high school diploma.

So, I purchased a book for her. Discover What You’re Best At, the 21st century edition. I remember buying it for my first Little Sister 20 years ago. Not sure it made a difference then, but I think this time it may have been helpful. The book has 6 quizzes: social, clerical, numerical, mechanical, business and logical. After you score yourself, you can see your strengths, and the book shows you jobs that fit those strengths, with sections for those with a high school diploma, those with some further education, some with a bachelor’s and some with graduate work. Amazingly, my Little Sister ’s strength was business, and the careers she wanted for herself fit her strengths. But they did require more education. Maybe not a four year degree, but not just a diploma. It has gotten her thinking about her future, and that’s really what I wanted.

I also bought a second book, “Who Am I? An A-Z Career Guide for Teens”, because it was also designed to help older teens consider their life choices. Goodness, what a difference; the book was all about money. Yes, it’s good to know your strengths and passions, but some careers wouldn’t make you rich. And the author named the degrees that would take you down such undesirable pathways. Music, anthropology, psychology, sociology, social work, English, fine arts, education… she basically eliminated several reasonable career paths because you wouldn’t make at least $100,000 a year.  And yet… my mother steered my sister and I to medicine and engineering because she wanted us to be financially secure. Not $100,000/yr financially secure, but never wanting. There’s a gap between never wanting and wealthy. What do you want for your children? What will it take to pay off those student loans? Because, sadly, the money is a piece of the education conundrum. To come out of college with $80,000 in debt requires a plan of how to get rid of the debt, and career choice matters. We live in a time where college for the sake of liberal arts, complex thought and mind expansion is a luxury.

At the same time, college does one other thing for young people. It gives them 2-4 more years to figure out “what’s next”. One of the things my niece has said a few times is “I’m not ready for adulthood.” Not ready for car payments and rent. Not ready for debt. Not ready for a 40 hour work-week.  College can delay that reality, it can even help you ease into it. I lived off campus in my second two years, managing bills, cooking and cleaning, keeping a home. My father sent money, bless him. But making it stretch was my job alone.

And not everyone does the 4 years in sequence. My parents didn’t, my sister didn’t, I didn’t. However, we all also realized that we needed more doors opened to us, and we all went back. There are so many people today who want those doors to open, and are going to college, or going back to college later in life. Sometimes juggling work and family with school, a few courses at a time. I see advertisements on TV for numerous schools that will give credit for experience, let you take courses on-line, and help older people fit college into their lives. But at a cost. What’s not in the ad is that tuition is high and student loans may be the only way to grab the opportunity. So, there we go, back to the money. And it shows in the degrees these schools offer. Business, management, communications. Something that will help the student get a job and pay off their loans.

We have come so far from the 1900’s when women simply didn’t go to college… unless they were husband-hunting. Certainly not to learn a subject that would enable them to have a career. Today, women are going to school in numbers that surpass men. And employers are rubber-stamping job descriptions with the need for higher education. It is no small wonder that young people are feeling that college is a requirement.

So what can we do about the fact that college is not for everyone? I really think that men have it easier if they have physical strength. They can go into the military or into construction. The military can be an option for women, also. A 3-year commitment can result in a skill, experience, and college in the future. The downside of course is that you may have to kill someone, or risk death.

There are also a wide variety of apprenticeships and trades that people with hands-on skills can consider. From cosmetology and culinary arts, to mechanical repair, to health science technology, to agriculture and even IT, young people who like to work with their hands have options. The federal government has even put together an apprenticeship program with participation from states across the nation to combine classroom and hands-on training that gets teens into work environments right out of high school.

So what do I tell my Little Sister? How do I explain that the choices she makes this year could affect the rest of her life? I don’t want to scare her any more than she already is. As much as I would love to yank her away from “the boy”, I know it doesn’t work that way.  But I want her to be her own person and not ensnared by him. I think it’s my responsibility to tell her that she needs her doors wide open and further education is the way to open doors. I won’t try to dictate the school, the course of study, the number of years. But I think it’s important to prepare young people for the reality of life-long learning. Life is just beginning when you walk across the stage. Seize the moment. Make it count.



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