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MY SON IS BYPASSING COLLEGE. WHY I’M PERFECTLY FINE WITH IT

my son is bypassing college

My oldest child won’t be attending college after graduating from high school this June.

At least, not this year.

My son, (I’ll refer to him as A) who’s 17, has decided to take a gap year, something Mrs. MMM and I are perfectly fine with.

A is a very bright kid, and while not at the top of his class in every subject, a very good student.  But like many kids his age, he has no idea what he wants to pursue education-wise.

He’s considered a few different career paths, teaching being the most recent one, but his interest has never been sustained.

This past fall, he made mention of taking a year off after graduation, but seemed hesitant about bringing it to his mother’s and my attention.  I’m not sure if he felt like he would be disappointing us (not the case), or whether he was hesitant about breaking from the seeming status quo.

Either way, we made sure A knew that he had our support if he decided to take the year off.  That was very important to me.

STATUS QUO

When I graduated from high school, I remember being in a similar position.  Good student (albeit, I never fully applied myself), a ton of interests, but no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

So I just did what most of my friends were doing.  I went to university.  There was definitely a pressure to go, though not from my parents or anyone else. I assumed that “I should go to university, because that’s what good students do.”  The status quo.

It would be difficult to come up with a less compelling reason.

MY OWN EXPERIENCE

My freshman year went fairly well.  I decided not to work during the semester, so that I could focus on studying. I was fortunate to have that option.  I found most of my classes interesting, and my grades were strong.  But I still lacked direction.

It was during my sophomore year that things began to unravel.  I moved out of the house and rented an apartment closer to school.  I still had no reason why I was there, but now I also had no one holding me accountable to get up in the morning. I began to skip classes on a regular basis, and fell behind.  I felt bad knowing that I was wasting my parents hard earned money, not to mention my own.

I cut my 2nd year short, and moved home early for the summer.  Needless to say, it wasn’t one of my proudest moments.  Thankfully, I didn’t remain in my rut for very long, due in part to what I’ll refer to as a “motivational speech” from my mother.  Trust me, it was very persuasive.  : )  I wonder if she remembers that.  She’ll be reading this post, so I guess I’ll find out shortly.

While my first college experience didn’t end well, I got my act together and ended up embarking on another journey just a few months later.  One that would influence the next 20 years of my life.  But that’s a story for another time.

THE VALUE OF A DEGREE

I used to tell people that furthering your education is never a bad thing, but nowadays I would probably place an asterisk beside that statement.  I have mixed feelings about the value of a university degree, in how it relates to career success.  More now than ever, it doesn’t translate.  In my own family, both my brother and I have managed to carve out 6-figure incomes and very good careers without a degree (I should note that we do have college diploma’s in an unrelated field as well as extensive accreditation in our professions).

I will admit that for myself, our relative success influences my slight anti-college bias.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.  A number of careers call for a higher education, such as healthcare or engineering, and if you have a specific path in mind that requires the related degree, than go for it!  But unless you are one of the few who has it all figured out, spending tens of thousands on a college degree is not an easy case to make.  Far too often, it’s simply not worth the cost.

Anyways, I’m getting off track;  the value of a college or university degree is a complex topic, something that should be explored in more depth, in a future post.

KNOW YOUR “WHY”

So…why is this mildly jaded college drop out ok with his son taking a gap year?

It’s because I understand how important it is to know your “why”.  

I’m not talking about having your life figured out when you’re 17.  Hardly.  But if you’re heading to college, you should have some idea why you’re there.

After all, something needs to drive you to study, not to mention get out of bed every day and get to class.  Unlike high school, the office won’t be calling, wondering where you’ve been all week.

BLANK CANVAS (GAP YEAR)

I can’t tell you what A’s gap year will look like, but here are some ways his mother and I are encouraging him (not necessarily in this order):

  1. Work a couple of different jobs. Mix it up.  Look for roles that require different skill sets.  He’ll learn more about himself and meet some interesting people.
  2. Save money.  I’ve really enjoyed watching A learn how to manage his money over the past couple of years.  He’s made a few spending mistakes, which is easier to absorb when your income is almost 100% disposable.  But he’s also becoming a diligent saver who sets biweekly budgets for himself, and tracks his spending.  During his gap year, we’ll do our best to show him the benefits of taking a longer term approach to saving money.
  3. Go on an adventure.  It doesn’t have to be 3 months backpacking across Europe, but I’d love for A to get out and explore.  It could be a road trip with a couple of friends, or a solo adventure of some sort.  The sense of freedom and independence gained would be priceless.
  4. Start a side hustle/business.  Since I began blogging over the past couple of years, one of my goals has been to instil an entrepreneur mindset in all of my kids.  A and I have had some great conversations on side hustles, and exploring possible business ideas. The wheels are turning. 🙂
  5. Volunteer.  Finding a way to give back could be one of the most valuable experiences A could take from his gap year.
  6. Go to school?  Just because he’s chosen to take a gap year, doesn’t mean that school is 100% off limits.  If he discovers an area of interest, he could pursue it further by taking a course or two.

SUMMARY

My son is bypassing college this year, and I’m perfectly fine with it.  In fact, I’m really excited for him, and his upcoming gap year!

And I’m relieved that he isn’t swayed by the same pressures I felt at his age.

Ultimately, it’s about him having the freedom to explore new things, and learning more about himself in the process.  What he makes of it is entirely up to him, but his mother and I will be there to listen and encourage him.  And if A decides to go back to school next year, I feel as though he’ll be that much more prepared.

Questions: 

Did you take a gap year before or after college?  How was your experience?  Would you do it again?  

Also, feel free to weigh in on your opinions on the value of a college degree.  I only touched on it here as it’s a complex topic, but a healthy discussion in the comments may lead to a larger post sometime soon!

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Comments 20

  1. A good post and a good approach. I wish I had that at his age and explore other options or just other types of education. Most of the university students are wasting resources, so did I, but as I see now, time is the one which I regret the most. Couldn’t agree more on the value of a degree. All of the options are good and I am sure those will help find that “Why”. Still, number 4 and 6 are the ones which I think can bring him the farther. And even after these, he can still go to university if he wants. There is a Hungarian saying parents telling their kids which sounds like this: “You don’t learn for me, you learn for yourself!” If only I understood that much more earlier. Good luck for your adventure A, whatever it brings!

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      Thank you for the great comment, HCF! Like you, I wish I had taken a different approach at my son’s age, although I wouldn’t say I have any regrets. I felt far too much pressure to figure things out at 18. Looking back, you realize just how young you were and how much time you really had, but that’s the way life is. Time offers a broader perspective, something we can try to pass on to our kids. Thanks for reading!

  2. Like you, I went to college because that’s just what you do after high school. And, since I still wasn’t sure exactly what my path was after I got my 4-year degree, I decided to stay for graduate school. Though I don’t necessarily regret the experience, I haven’t used that degree as much as I thought I would (family and life took me down another path). Thankfully, that student loan debt is in my distant past.

    Like you and your wife, we support our kids in whatever path they choose. Our son is graduating this year (he’s 17). He was accepted to his favorite college and liked it but, ultimately, he decided he didn’t really know what he wanted to do yet. What he did want was an experience, travel, and a hands-on job. He’s always dreamed of experiencing a military life, so he enlisted in the Air Force. Also – it’s funny you mention the adventure – over spring break he and 4 of his friends went on a road trip. They camped and hiked and even cooked their own food (I was really impressed that they made themselves sandwiches ahead of time to take on their all-day hike). He had the time of his life! 🙂

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      Hey Amanda! It sounds like your son is an adventurous guy, what a great way to be! He’ll never forget that road trip, the memories from our teenage years always remain so vivid. Where will he be stationed as he begins his Air Force training?

  3. No gap year for me, but I was pretty clear on my direction after HS. I have a son and daughter who are in their freshman year in college, they both had pretty clear directions too. My wife and I would not be opposed to a gap year if they were still trying to figure out a direction. I like your plan for your son. All about soaking up some experiences and seeing what might be a best fit for his future. We have seen a few of my son and daughter’s friends fail, after in their first semester of college being away from home after being very good students in HS. Sometimes 17-18 years olds are just not ready to make the leap. Best of luck to you and your son!

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      Thanks Brian. I’m always impressed by folks who possess that clear sense of direction from an early age, and they seem to find success more often than not. I’d be interested to know if you feel there are certain attributes you instilled in your kids that helped give them that focus early on, or whether it was something they were born with. Very interesting!

      1. I don’t believe my wife and I did anything in particular over the years, we always instilled in them to give their best effort and finish things they started. So far so good.

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  4. I was pushed into college immediately after HS because that’s what the Jones’s did, or so my mother thought. I had no idea what I wanted to do, so I failed out. It is much better to wait until you know what you want before spending gobs of money. My son is graduating this year too and he is going into the Marines. He will eventually pursue his degree while serving, once he figures it all out. My daughter graduated last year and is in nursing school. She knew exactly what she wanted to do and is going after it. Every person is different and should not be made to fit in a box. Good for you and your wife for supporting your son, many unfortunately would not.

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      Thanks so much for stopping by, Lori! “Every person is different and should not be made to fit in a box.” I love that thought, it’s so true. We certainly want all of our kids to possess that sense of boldness, to forge their own path, and not to worry about what conventional wisdom would say.

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  5. I wish I had skipped out on university. Honestly, it was 4 years of my life spent on a useless degree in economics. 99% of the theories they taught us don’t even work in the real world.

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  6. While I enjoyed my college experience, I had only a slight idea of what I wanted to do with my education, and it turned out the jobs weren’t there when I graduated. I think students who have a clear idea of what they want from their education and a clear idea of how they’re going to apply it are the most successful, and if that means waiting a year (or more) to start, then so be it.

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      I think that’s sound advice, Gary. It’s interesting how some people have such a clear sense of direction from a very early age, almost a singular focus. While in some ways I envy that, I’m also thankful that I have a very broad range of interests, as I think it’s made me a more well rounded person.

  7. Hi

    My son had a similar problem and didn’t know what he wanted to do. He decided to go into an apprenticeship instead of going to university, which seems to have suited him just fine and he’s really enjoying working as well as earning money.

    University is not the only route to success nowadays.

    My recent post may be of interest

    http://fiukmoney.co.uk/little-fu-1-start-of-a-journey/

    Good luck to your son

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      Thanks for stopping by, Fu Mon Chu! Apprenticeships are a great option, and it sounds like your son is doing something he enjoys. It’s hard to beat on the job experience, it can help one figure out early on if a career is right for them. Thanks for the link, I’ll check out your post!

  8. I had tons of fun in college, it allowed me to travel and I met my husband there, so all in all, I am thankful for my experience. But I am certain I would have greatly benefitted from a gap year. I really had no direction. I majored in English knowing I did not want to be a professor because it was what I enjoyed most. And then I allowed myself to fall into a career in PR too easily because I interned in PR during college. My education was extremely expensive and honestly, you barely need a degree to do what I do! I wish I would have had a little more experience to call upon, even just a little more perspective before embarking on massive student loan debt as I did and before deciding my major. With what we do to young people in this country, encouraging them to start life with such brutal debt, I honestly think all kids should take some time after graduating high school and I will not be upset at all if my sons make that decision.

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      I think that often, the real value that college provides is the life experience. Being away from home for the first time, living with roommates, meeting lifelong friends. Like you, I met my spouse during my second try at college, and along with everything else, it really changed the course of my life. The educational reward was secondary, to be honest.

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