How to Prepare Your Kids for College – Part 3

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Part Three:  Putting it all together

As we discuss the impact of the decision to pursue a college degree, we have found many “moving parts” that need to be locked down as part of the process.  After considering the various environments on campus (Physical, Spiritual and Educational) and the practical needs for your student (Financial, Physical and Academic), a parent (and student) can be overwhelmed by the magnitude of this situation.

This is when you should stop and step back from the heat of the moment to reconsider the decision to send your student to college.  While there are many valid reasons to pursue a college degree, there are many poor reasons, too.

The first hard question to ask is this: “What is the actual need for a degree?  Is a degree required for the desired career path for the student?”  If your student is studying medicine, law, engineering or accounting, then yes – a degree is a required step on the career path.  But there are many more careers that do not require a degree to achieve success.  In fact, studies show that a majority of people in the workforce 10 years after graduation are not in their field of study!  While an Art History degree may sound great at the time (especially if the student desires to teach the subject at a High School or college level), what is the back-up plan if gainful employment can’s be found?  There are many art history, general studies and philosophy grads serving up coffee or directing Wal-Mart shoppers after they have earned their degree!

This may sound like hyperbole, but if you conduct your own informal study of your peers, you will find very few folks are still in their field of study (doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers notwithstanding).  This is exactly why you and your student need to be as certain as possible that they are on a good, viable path.  Counsel from the Lord, family members and people who are in the desired field will prove invaluable in your quest for discernment and direction.

The second hard question is this: “Is now the best time to matriculate?”  As mentioned in the previous article, going straight to college from High School isn’t always the best plan.  The reason to delay a decision – or simply defer enrollment (most colleges are open to a 1-year deferment without hassle or penalty) – may be the best one to make.  Because the college environment is so different from traditional High School, and a lot of money is at risk, a time for the student to see the working world for a time can provide motivation to perform at a higher level in college than in High School.  Spending a year or more working a 9-5 job (if possible, related to the desired field of study) can provide insight into the actual work they would engage in post-graduation.  If there is an internship or similar option within the industry, it can also lay the groundwork for future recruitment into full-time employment between college years and post-graduation.

The bottom line is that this is a significant time in your student’s life.  Many mistakes are possible which can include lasting impact (i.e. student loans that will need repayment if a degree is earned or not).  And there are many trap doors your student will encounter on campus (we briefly mentioned the availability of sex, drugs and alcohol) that can not only shorten a college career but suddenly put your student on a very different path than anticipated!  With this amount of risk to consider, it truly is critical to make an informed decision using input from a multitude of sources.

Putting it all together:  There are many good reasons to earn a college degree.  There are also many poor reasons to go to college (social pressure: “all my friends are going,” family pressure: “Uncle Louie (or the family trust fund) offered to pay for it,” and seeking a spouse are examples of bad reasons).  As you consider how your student should best approach this phase of their life, you will see a good path open up before you.  Ask the hard questions; pursue the practical needs (financing, etc.) and investigate the schools that fit you and your student’s stated desires.  But don’t set your heart on any one school or path.  Always leave an ‘opt-out’ clause in each decision.  The hard questions should be revisited often.  The frank discussions about the anticipated distractions must be had frequently.  This is likely the last opportunity you will have to discuss these life choices with your student while they are under your authority.  Be wise in your approach – remember that your student has to buy into all decisions as well.  College can be a rewarding, fulfilling and wonderful experience in your student’s life.  Keeping eyes open and having stated plans, goals and limits can help ensure success (read: a degree) and a bright future for the rest of your family’s life.

We all want the best for our children; often the “best” includes higher education.  Tough decisions need to be made, but with the right focus, good information/counsel and a keen eye for the unexpected will allow you and your student to make the best decision for the family.