As I sipped hot coffee in a café, I listened to my friend detail the latest in her son’s journey towards college admission. Because her son is interested in attending the same university my son wants to attend in a few years, I was curious to learn the ins and outs of the application process.
Her news, however, was stunning to me.
“The college advisor told us he probably won’t get in, even with perfect grades,” she told me. She went on to say that the university’s admission criteria were so stringent that the advisor had encouraged her son to apply to less competitive school.
“So, we are looking elsewhere and he’s crushed,” she said, with a shrug.
Since my son is a few years younger than my friend’s son, I immediately ran through a list of ways I could help improve my son’s chances of getting into his number one choice college. A tutor. More extracurricular activities. Networking events at the university. I found myself feeling upset, as though my son’s dream of attending a prestigious film school had ended even before they started.
But, as I became more and more upset, I stopped myself.
Why was I really upset?
Was it because I’d heard that it would be harder for my son to achieve his dreams?
Or, was I feeling anxious and upset because I heard my friend say “less competitive school” and I immediately bristled at the idea of my son attending a college with less prestige?
I’m ashamed to admit it was probably the latter.
And I know I’m not alone, either.
Somewhere along the line, parents were given the idea that the only way our children will be “successful” is if they attend Ivy League schools with huge price tags. That the only way we will be able to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done is if our kid is standing on a stage holding a four-year degree and giving us the thumbs up.
Parents, we need to take several seats and think about what we are really saying.
And its time we start telling our kids that success doesn’t always mean a four-year college degree.
Yes, I said that out loud.
Yes, I realize that’s shocking to some of you.
But, let’s face it: not every student is cut out for a four-year college and that is okay.
Do you hear me?
It’s okay if a kid wants to pursue a career in a trade field or take a few college courses in bookkeeping before joining his dad’s business.
Or, dare I say it?
It’s completely okay if a kid decides to skip college altogether.
And, just because your friend’s kid is killing it at MIT doesn’t necessarily mean your kid will be living his best life if he’s struggling in a field just because his parents have put unnecessary pressure on him.
In his article in Time magazine, psychologist and author William Stixrud details the conversation he had with his high school daughter after he gave a speech about high school grades not being a predictor of success. He writes that his daughter challenged his statements, saying that she didn’t believe him when he said that grades didn’t predict success well.
“I assured her that I did. To prove it, I offered to pay her $100 if she got a ‘C’ on her next report card — in any subject,” he writes. Stixrud goes on to say that parents owe it to teens to be honest about the path to success. And sometimes that means being honest about the fact that college isn’t for everyone.
Parents, we need to take a page out of Stixrud’s playbook start handing out rewards for C’s on report cards.
Because every time we hand our kids $20 for an A on their report card or post a picture on Facebook about a top achievement, we are telling our kids that the path to success lies only in high achievement and a college with an expensive price tag.
Consider these facts:
According to a study published by the Census Bureau, only 1 in 3 adults hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. And, while that number is the highest it’s ever been, the fact remains that 2 out 3 adults don’t hold higher degrees.
Yet, we continue to hammer it home to our kids that a college degree is necessary for success.
A 2013 study by Pew Research Center found that attending a pricier private college didn’t necessarily equate to higher satisfaction. In fact, the report states, “The answer given by those who have graduated from college is that their feelings of personal satisfaction and economic well-being are about the same, no matter which type of institution they attended.”
Yet, we continue to tell our kids that the expensive school will bring better job satisfaction.
And, finally, nearly one-third of jobs in the American economy do not require a secondary degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that occupations that typically require a high school diploma or the equivalent for entry, including many production, construction, and office and administrative support occupations, make up 36 percent of employment.
So why, oh, why are we still pushing our kids to go to college when there are so many other paths to a successful, fulfilling life?
Since my conversation with my friend, I’ve made it a point to start talking to my son not only about what his career aspirations are but also what will make him happy as an adult.
We’ve talked about finances, his hobbies and the subjects he learns at school that bring him the most joy.
Mostly, I’ve started listening to what he’s saying about his future.
And if he tells me that a four year degree isn’t for him, I will support his choice.
Because any teen who recognizes what will make him fulfilled is already successful in my book.
Christine Burke is the owner of the popular parenting blog, keeperofthefruitloops.com. In her spare time, she runs marathons, collects thrift shop finds and eats ice cream like it’s her job. Her work has been featured on the Today Show, the Today Parenting Team, Scary Mommy and other parenting websites. In her current role as Assistant Editor of Grown and Flown, she writes about the realities of soon sending her not so little anymore kids off to college and prays she doesn’t use too many comma splices in the process.