Dear Dr. Wes and Ben: My son isn’t a straight-A student, but he’s close, and he takes AP classes. Now in the middle of March he has decided to stay out of college next year. He’s always liked school, and I don’t understand why he’d want to blow off college like that.
Wes: I caught an interview on NPR in early March that was so dumb I actually checked the calendar to be sure it wasn’t an early April fools’ joke. A senior editor at the Weekly Standard wrote a book called “Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College.” In the interview he lamented college essays and applications as being a bit over the top — a point I’ve made several times myself. But then he suggested that college essays “call upon emotions that don’t come easily” for seniors like his son. He went on to explain that his boy told the school counselor that all he really wanted to do was “paint the college colors on his chest and major in beer.” The dad proudly stated his son had successfully accomplished this lucrative goal.
I hope this guy isn’t paying for his kid’s education, or else he’s getting a pretty bad deal. I don’t know the reasons for your son’s decision, but if any of them have to do with not being ready to make the most of the experience next fall, I’d say he’s showing some unusual insight that was lacking in the NPR story. If your son has a job and can make a significant contribution to his own upkeep, I’d support his choice. If his goal is to warm your couch playing video games, I’d be clear with him that you’re not up for that. After a year or two of working and paying bills (be sure you include that in the plan) your son will be more mature and ready to head to college where he can have fun and learn something.
Ben: I’ll be the first out of three kids in my family to go directly from high school to college. One of my sisters spent a year tutoring for a family in Romania and came back with an incredible life experience. My oldest sister went to cosmetology school, and she and her husband are now completely debt-free, which is more than I can say for some college graduates I know. I have nothing against college, but it’s unfair to suppose that kids are wasting their time or potential by straying from the typical American dream.
Sometimes we think we know what a person wants better than they do, and, yes, sometimes this is true. But not always. My cousin was a gifted math student who, despite the urgings of his counselors and teachers, is now studying to become a pastor. Once graduation is over, there’s no telling what will happen, so don’t be afraid of unorthodox or unexpected ideas. Something wonderfully unexpected might just happen.