My family has a varied history with college. My mother was the first to achieve an undergraduate degree, while her sister decided to traipse through Europe before enrolling. A few years after they graduated, their mother (my grandmother) earned her college degree, with honors. In a picture from my grandmother’s graduation, my mother appears — pregnant with me.
I think about my grandmother taking classes with students half her age, and wonder if she thought of those kids as her peers, or as…kids. I can’t imagine her pulling all-nighters, cramming for tests. At 45 years old, she was totally motivated to learn. How many 18-year-olds exhibit that attribute?
I was motivated at 18, but I was also distracted, confused, and not very confident. I mean, I had only had my braces off for a few months before I went off to college! Academics are only part of the deal when you live at school; there’s the whole adulting thing to acclimate too. And nobody to tell me I can’t eat sugar cereal every day (which of course, I did)!
Though my kids are only 8 and 5 years old, I do wonder what will be best for them once they’re 18. Though we’ve diligently started their 529 college savings accounts, I am open to the idea of them taking some time to figure things out once they’re out of high school, especially my daughter, who is young for her grade. Here are a few reasons why I might encourage them to delay going to college:
They Have To Know If They Even Want To Go
I don’t regret heading right to college after graduating high school, but that’s probably because I maintained a decent GPA, eventually found work somewhat related to my field of study, and basically have nothing to compare the experience to. But I knew with absolute certainty what I wanted to study in school and I haven’t veered significantly from the discipline in which I have my degree (a bachelor’s degree in film production, with a minor in creative writing). I know that not everyone is that certain about their career aspirations when they're practically still children, and there's nothing wrong with that.
If my kids are the least bit unsure of what they want to spend a lot of time learning about, I don’t think it will be a good idea to send them off immediately to college. I’m open to the idea of a liberal arts education, where they explore a variety of subjects in a way that builds a foundation for them to add to as they refine their interests. But they have to be excited about the possibilities. And if they think going to college is just “something you’re supposed to do to get a good job,” they need to spend a little more time determining where they see themselves in this world. I don’t mind them living at home for a bit while they're figuring this out…but only if they're pitching in with chores!
Maturity Pays Off
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained more of a sense of myself. When I was 18, I thought I knew who I was (like we all do), but I was barely formed (as we all are at 18). I ended up wasting a lot of time trying to “fit in” at college my freshman year. It took me until I was a sophomore to understand why I click with someone. I didn’t make a lot of true friends my freshman year because I kept trying on new personas. But once I had a firmer grasp on what I valued in people, and that popularity had nothing to do with it, I made a handful of amazing friends who I am still close with today. I think if I had gone to college a bit later, when my value system was further established, I could have made those connections a little more easier, and sooner.
Life Experiences Are Free
Higher learning is a significant investment, and one that also incurs debt. While I was lucky to have been able to pay off my student loans within a couple of years of graduation, if my kids attend a private institution out-of-state, they can bet on carrying debt for a pretty long time (especially if there continues to be no student loan reform).
Meanwhile, I don’t feel you can put a price on what you gain from life experiences. Whether it’s being able to fund some travel, or getting a job for a while to pay off your resume's "proficient in Microsoft Office" claim in a way that positively impacts a company’s bottom line, the classroom of the world is not to be discounted. In fact, most MBA programs want you to have some actual experience before you apply, proving that stellar students are often the ones who can make the connection between the lecture hall and real life.
You Find More Networking Opportunities When You’re Actually Working
Some of the elitism of certain colleges and universities is derived from their access to successful alumni. If I had a chance to do it all over, I think I’d pick the schools that were in a better position to hook me up with internships that could lead to employment after graduation. I loved my college, and had a wonderful education, but I lived at home for two years after I graduated because I couldn’t find enough paid work in my field. Interning while still in school definitely can give you a leg up when it comes time to start sending out resumes for full-time work. If I had made more professional connections sooner, maybe by taking a year off between high school and college to get some work experience under my belt, I might have been able to support myself earlier on in my adulthood.
The Lack Of Support For Survivors Of Sexual Harassment On Campuses Is A Real Thing
I don’t know one woman, including myself, who was not the target of some act of sexual aggression on their college campus. I wish that wasn't true, but it definitely is, and we can't ignore it in this conversation. Though I’m teaching my daughter and son about consent and I can prepare them to act responsibly and respectfully, I can’t protect them 24/7 from the worst parts of the world. Until this horrific problem is obliterated, I will always be uneasy about my children living in college dorms and attending campus events.
Sexual harassment is a serious symptom of throwing a group of people ages 18-22 together as they experience a new kind of freedom away from home. When you think about college in those terms — where you live and learn among people only your own age — without the example of older generations, it’s an odd scene...and one that in no way reflects real life (though sexual harassment is by no means exclusive to college campuses).
So as much as I champion higher learning for my children, if they see themselves thriving in an environment outside college for a while, I’ll definitely encourage them to explore that option. There are other places to find yourself than on campus.