When I was a kid, all I heard growing up was
“You should go to college and get your degree.”
“It doesn’t matter what your major is, just get your degree.”
“If you have a degree, you’ll definitely get a Great Job.”
“Don’t worry about student loans – you’ll have no problem paying them off when you get your Great Job.”
Yes, I actually was told this by well-meaning, helpful people many times throughout my adolescence. And maybe this was true at some point. I’m sure it had to be true for someone, at least. I’m assuming that all these people weren’t just pulling something over on me. Surely it wasn’t just some sick joke, right? Right?
Well, anyway, it’s beside the point now, but I will tell you that my experience has most certainly NOT been what those well-meaning, helpful people promised me back in the day, and has definitely played a role in my feelings that I am about to expound upon in this blog post.
If one of my children wants to be an artist or a writer, I will more than likely discourage her from going to college unless she gets a full, all expenses paid, scholarship. To me, the best way to learn these crafts is to apprentice with different people, study on her own, and simply… just keep working at it. I think there is a benefit to a 4 year, liberal arts education, but for an artist, getting in debt for this kind of education is the quickest way to not be able to pursue your craft after you graduate because let’s be honest… it’s very, very difficult to find a job in an arts field that pays enough money for you to live on AND pay back student loans. Artists may have to work for years in solitude and obscurity before they are at a place where they can live a decent life on an artist’s income.
Ultimately, our goal as parents would be to make it so that we could easily pay out of our pockets to help our children go to college, but we may not be in that position. So, the next best thing we can do is to help them make wise decisions that will put them in a good place financially when they start out in life. Part of that starts now by providing them a well-rounded education at home, and helping them to determine what their talents and passions are.
I just think that our economy and society have changed. No longer is the “I’ve graduated from high school, so I’m definitely going to college” mindset a viable one, in my opinion. It’s just too expensive. When you have to get a loan for a car and for a house, who can manage another ball and chain around the neck?
I will give a caveat to this: There are many professions that require a college degree, and that actually pay off in the long run enough to justify the loans (should the girls have to use them). Those kinds of professions include teacher, lawyer, anyone in the medical field, etc...
However, if one of our children declared that she really, really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, then we would discourage her from taking out loans to go to school for anything. Because if you have the loans, the reality is that you have to pay them back, and that might be a roadblock to her dream of being a stay-at-home mom. Despite what people may think, one cannot have it all in this life.
And mostly, it’s sort of like this… those of us who are creative sometimes need freedom and the ability to work odd hours to do what it is that inspires and drives us. A college degree is an asset, yes, but often the amount of money you pay for it doesn’t really pay off in the end. And to make ends meet, many creative people find themselves forced to find steady, 9-5 jobs that squelch any imaginative impulse and leave that artistic person feeling discouraged and empty.
What are some things that a person pursuing a creative profession could do instead of going to college?
To do all of this, though, you have to have support. So, here’s where I’m going to challenge the parents of the creative child. I’ve heard people say before, “I’m only going to support my kid if he/she is in college.” I sort of understand this, but what it says to the child is “I don’t believe in you. I don’t think you can make it going your own way.” And that is a sad thing.
Now, as a parent, you may think that a creative profession is a pipe dream that is something that is only able to be accomplished by someone else. And maybe that’s true. But that’s where you might be glad that you didn’t shell out thousands of dollars for your child to train at a college (where the professors are not necessarily going to be honest with you or your child about his/her talent. After all, they need your money). I think that you will really find if your child has the true talent and drive to make it when they go out into the Real World and try to experience it that way. Handling rejection and failure is the true gauge as to whether or not someone can handle something.
Parents need to see the non-college way as a legitimate path. They need to support their child in this process in the same way that they would support their college-attending child. As long as the creative child is working hard and doing her best, this should be as good as getting an A on a paper. I think if the parents of the creative child embraced this alternative path, they might become a little more interested in what their child is doing, and perhaps might seek out contacts for their child, and help the child get a good start in life.
I guess this post may make it seem like I’m not a fan of higher education, but that’s not exactly true. I see the benefit in it. I just don’t see this is as a need for everyone. I see how a college degree can help someone become a more well-rounded person who can think critically and communicate effectively. However, I think that people do not need a college degree to develop these traits. Frankly, in my opinion, high school graduates should have developed them before they ever stepped onto a college campus, but that’s a different blog post, for perhaps a different blog.
Homeschooling my daughters makes it clear to me that education is not a cookie cutter-type venture. One mode of teaching may work for one child, but not necessarily the other. Each child has different talents, abilities, gifts, passions, and desires. And these aspects will take each of them on a unique path in life. To say, across the board, that they all should attend college is an insult to their individuality.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.