Should Parents Force Their Child to Go to College?

sign says college just ahead

I started talking to my children about college when they were still in diapers. Now that I have a teenager in the home, college comes up nearly every day.

My children know they are expected to go to college. However, forcing them to do so is not on my agenda.

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Should Parents Force Their Child to Go to College?

Parents should encourage, not try to force their child to attend college. Most people start college when they’re 18 years old and technically adults. It’s not possible to force them to go to college if they do not wish to do so.

The best thing to do for your children is to support them in decisions that will help them lead full, successful lives.

Encourage Them But Don’t Try to Force Them

Making a child go to college isn’t something that should be done. Encouraging a child to go to college is a different matter. Parents should talk about college with their kids.

They should discuss what college is, what to expect and how it will benefit them. Parents might also choose to lay out some other alternative plans and then help their kids figure out the right choices to make for themselves.

Explain What College is and it’s Benefits

College is typically a four-year institution that offers classes leading to a specific degree. Students will take general education courses that cover a well-rounded area of study. Most of their courses will apply to a particular field that interests them. Often, a student will start studying in one area and end in another.

The biggest mistake students and their parents make is thinking that college is a means to an end. College is not just about finding gainful employment. It’s also about learning as much about oneself as possible. It’s about a student opening their minds to new thoughts. It’s about discovering a world that is much bigger than oneself.

That said, most meaningful careers do start with a college education. Physicians cannot practice without a medical degree. Few companies will hire an accountant who doesn’t have a degree in accounting or finance.

However, most careers do not require a specific type of degree. The job market is much more open than most incoming students realize.

Therefore, that student who studies history has just as bright of a future as a student with a business degree. What is most important is that the student studies in an area that fulfills them in some way.

Talk About Options

College isn’t the only option. While studies show that adults with college degrees earn, on average, one million dollars more in their lifetime than those without degrees, not everyone is best served with a college education.

Trade school is a great option for students who want to earn technical certifications or degrees without going to a four-year school. Electricians, welders, graphic designers, paralegals, and dental hygienists are just a few professionals that can learn their crafts at a trade school.

The military is an excellent choice for young people who have a desire to serve or need direction. Military service is an inroad to future careers or can be a career in and of itself. It also offers great benefits, including tuition assistance for those who want to go to college while they serve.

Yet another option is junior college. A junior college gives a young person a taste of college life without committing to a full four years.

Make a Plan

Are you hopeful that your child will choose college? Help them make this decision by getting a plan outlined while they are still young.

My husband and I started college-savings plans for our children on their first birthdays. We make annual contributions to it and show our children how their college money has grown.

Funding college is only one part of the plan. The other is talking to your kids about their future dreams and then outlining how to reach them. Remember not to start too young with this planning as it can be time-consuming at best.

For example, when my daughter was five, her plan was to grow up to either be a kangaroo or the letter J. I have yet to find a college with degrees that will help in those endeavors.

Start making real plans around the time your child starts high school. Talk about future careers or general goals. My son desires to go the Ivy League route, which means he needs to take honors-level courses in high school, four years of a foreign language and have well-rounded extra-curricular activities.

Be Supportive

The worst thing you can do is tell your child that they can’t achieve their dreams. You may not want them to be disappointed, but it’s better for them to know you have faith in them than it is to reach for something and fall short.

I speak from experience. My parents told me that I wasn’t smart enough for college and bound to fail. Despite my 4.0 GPA and excellent college entrance test scores, I believed them.

It took a few years for me to realize on my own that I needed to open my mind to the new ideas that college would bring. Once I did get through my studies, I felt unstoppable.

Help Them Along the Journey

No, you shouldn’t force your children to go to college. You should let them know how important an education is before they make choices on their own.

Once they do make those choices, help them in any way you can. Do you agree or disagree? Tell us in the comments!

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Frequently Asked Questions

Start the conversation early. Try to get your child to think about what they would like their life to look like in the future and how going to college (or going to a trade school) can help them get there.