Why I Want My Son to Surf the World Before College

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why my son should put off collegeIn our LV Moms’ Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money and parenthood. These views are theirs, not ours, but we look forward to opening the floor for discussion. 

In the past we’ve featured writers with ideas on everything from how to earn cash while doing other people’s chores to why being in a lesbian relationship doesn’t make achieving work-life balance any easier.

Today, one mom tells us why she’s in no hurry to enroll her son in college when he graduates.

My son Bradley will be a senior in high school next year.

While most of my fellow parents are busy visiting colleges, debating majors and investigating applications, financial aid and party-potential lifestyles with their college-bound teens, I’m doing the opposite: I’m encouraging my son to postpone college and surf the world.

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I’m well aware that this is a decision that freaks some people out. What? He’s not going to college? You’re going to send him off into the world? To surf? What if he never comes back to pursue college? The questions, while well-meaning, are tainted with judgment, doubt and a hint of “you’re the worst parent ever.”

But to me, this is a perfectly logical decision.

College Isn’t for Everyone … at Least, Not Right Now

First off, I have always tried to parent each of my two sons as individuals. I do not believe there is a one-size-fits-all approach to raising any child or preparing them for adulthood. My goal has always been to raise independent thinkers who are healthy, happy, willing to give back to the world and passionate about life. If I can do that, I have done my job.

I don’t view my role as a parent to push my children into our mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have 2.2 kids. If all of that happens, that’s fine—but only if that’s their choice.

When the topic of college comes up, I always tell my son, “If you’re not ready, don’t waste your time or our money.” Because the College Board places the price for in-state colleges at $22,261. A year. And private schools? They are a whopping $43,289 a year. Even with grants or federal tax breaks, the net price that in-state students (more likely, parents) at public colleges dish out averages $16,510. As if that’s not enough, most graduates enter the “real world” with nearly $27,000 in student loan debt.

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  • HappyNow!

    I think that’s fantastic.

    My first year of college nearly ruined my future. I had been to an extremely tough high school and just wasn’t ready for college. Because of my parents, peers, and life, I thought I *HAD* to go, though. It was fun in that I made new friends, but that was it. I felt like it was worthless. I had no real idea about what I wanted to do. The classwork was a much easier than what I did in high school. I wound up quitting. When I went back to school, if I had been an incoming freshman, I would’ve had it paid for, but since I had attended another university for a semester, I wasn’t eligible for the full academic scholarship with a stipend.

    If I had waited until I was ready and knew what I wanted to go to college instead of feeling pressured to GO NOW, I wouldn’t be financially strapped right now because of student loans.

  • Joanne

    You’re a smart mom.

  • Jessica

    I applaud your parenting approach. My parents (Mom openly, Dad more quietly but just as adamantly) are VERY wrapped-up in the “perfect life” – exactly what you described. As a matter of fact, just the other day my mom started getting extremely anxious when I said, “Who knows how many kids I’ll have? Maybe 3…I probably couldn’t handle 4, but I can’t say for sure right now whether I want 1,2, 3, or none”. She believes I need to have 2 (and if 2.2 were possible, that would be the correct answer). She’s so obsessed with this “perfect life” American ideal because it worked for her. I am 28 and I honestly am just not sure what I want to do with my life. I’m in graduate school, but I have dreams of opening an equine & canine therapy center to help troubled kids and young adults develop better coping skills and get (and stay) emotionally balanced. That’s my real dream. But my mom doesn’t approve because it’s “risky” – she wants me to take a high-salary desk job with security. I’ve been pursuing that, but I’m just not really happy. Sometimes I wish my parents would encourage me to pursue my dreams and support me more. I know they are fulfilled by having money, but I feel like I will be fulfilled when I can make real positive differences in people’s lives. The “perfect life” with the white picket fence doesn’t sound fulfilling to me.

    • Nathalie

      You’re an adult now, which means you don’t have to do as your parents say. Follow your dreams. Don’t let others (parents included) dictate how you should lead your life. On the flip side, take responsibility for your decisions, including successes and failures.

  • Rene Bolanos

    I think you are approaching your son’s education in an incredibly thought and delicate way. By focusing on Bradley’s current strengths you will inspire him to pursue his passion and, ultimately, achieve independence in the process.
    Currently in my late twenties, I look back at my college experience and it felt forced. Taking time and care to make major life decisions will lead to a fulfilling future. Cheers to you!

  • Alison

    Excellent! I worry that too many parents fall into the peer pressure from other parents to stick with the status quo instead of actually looking at their kid and what might be best for them. Well done!

  • Imjpo19

    I did go to college with my parents support. They told me that I could be whatever I chose to be and I wanted to go to veterinary school. I struggled with science and math in high school but my parents encouraged me to pursue my dream. They have always had my back and I am extremely grateful for that. I graduated with a B.S. in Biology and am now on my way to grad school.
    College is not for everyone though and I am so glad that this author is allowing her son to go for his dreams instead of forcing him to go to college.

  • Jacqueline Ross

    Way to go! I think this is one of the most thoughtful and helpful posts that clearly illustrates both the situation and thought-process behind the parenting scenes. The communication and dialogue between you and your son surrounding the potential issues is key. Kids really do hear us when we talk but we don’t always give it time to percolate so they have the chance to really process and apply the information. From an investment standpoint, you could be giving your son the best financial lessons of his life, including not ‘keeping up with the Jones’ and spending his hard-earned funds (not yours!) according to his own personal values and priorities. Thanks for sharing and tell him he could start a blog site to document (and perhaps help pay for!) his adventures as he responsibly surfs the world!

  • PhilipJFry

    That is really thoughtful of you.
    My parents had always pushed me badly to go to University, so I had to make a decision of what to study when I was 17, I decided I wanted to study Telecommunications Engineering (branch of Sound and Image), but it was all based on daydreams and fantasy and with a dangerous lack of insight from the real world.
    So I ended up stuck for years in a city I hated, studying something that wasn’t at all what I expected (Telecommunications Engineering) and failing badly. I started working (just any kind of job) to be financially independent from my parents so I didn’t have to respond to any criticism or commands anymore. Of course the salary wasn’t good so I would just study, work and never go out or have any fun at all. When I had some free time I would go to the library and borrow a couple books and a film because I couldn’t even afford TV or internet connection.
    I got seriously depressed because I was about the loneliest person in the world and I couldn’t really talk to anybody about how I felt and how I was living (in sheer misery).
    An internal offer for an IT position in the same company where I was working as a customer service rep. got me started on my IT career, in which I consider myself now pretty successful. I also met some very good friends I still keep (even though I moved countries) and the love of my life. I probably wouldn’t have ended up there in the first place if I hadn’t made the same choices, but still I regret so badly all the time, money and happiness I just flushed down the toilet for taking a life changing decision when I wasn’t ready.

  • Jay Trevy

    No judgement here. Smartest decision ever.

  • dr.bosslady

    LOVE, THIS! ROCK ON, MOM. I am an chronic overachiever wrapping up a PH.D after having a dbl major in college, graduating with Honors, and finishing my Master’s degree in 1 year. I did the same fast pace rush into my career and in the last 7 years have been promoted three times and moved across country 3 times. I wouldn’t change a thing about my path, but I often think I’m driven by accomplishments and NEVER learned to enjoy the journey. This is the type of wisdom that I could have gotten if I’d ever had the chance to ‘find myself’ without competing responsibilities. What you’re doing will empower your son to do what is right for him.

  • Sally Melanie de Lourenco

    Wonderful and refreshing! Thank you for saying out loud what I think many of us wish we had done ourselves or wish our parents had supported us in doing! I left a career path that was laid out before me as a pre-law student working for a giant firm in New York to pursue a career as a writer. I wish I had made this decision BEFORE I spent four years and 64,000 dollars on an education and a degree that at best is wonderful decoration and some kind of old-school validation for my resume and those old-almost-archaic institutions that still value them. My husband has TWO master’s degrees in math from incredible world-renowned universities and works in the financial world. It provides us with a comfortable life, and our son with options, but at a great cost to my husband’s inner fulfillment in life. Ask him what he would have rather done, write and study music. He’s pretty talented too but was never ASKED what it is that he’s passionate about and never supported in his innate talents to go further and explore the possibilities available to him in that world. He’s great at what he does now, but I know there isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t wish he was “allowed” to follow his dream and other talents. Money in short, is never everything in life. On my end, I became a journalist working for women’s magazines and am now working on my first novel and starting up a literary magazine for teen girls – to encourage them to pursue their creative dreams – and a website for creative moms who think outside of the box and want to do more with their time and families, than shop online and punch the clock or wait for the requisite 4-day-long weekend vacations. I think we live in a different world. It’s exciting and we should encourage our kids to LIVE while they have the energy and passion to do so, THAT will take them far in life, will help them to be better more compassionate and effective citizens of the world, and will more than likely lead to an interesting and exciting career in whatever it is that they are innately good at. P.S. Yes, I am STILL paying off my college loans. So Brava for making this decision. Your son is very lucky to have you as a mom :-)