In 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.
Not that all of that isn’t worth it, but it’s too big of an investment to be taken lightly anymore. We are past the days where going to college can equate to years dedicated to simply “finding yourself.”
Liberal arts majors no longer cut it in this highly competitive job market. And, if we’re all being really honest, many of us probably even received degrees that led us to jobs we eventually loathed—maybe because we started college when we weren’t mature enough to decide what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives.
At least that was me. How I wish someone had sat me down and asked what I really wanted to do when I was in high school. I would have said that I dreamed about traveling through Europe—something I still have yet to do. I pursued the "safe" degree and corporate life successfully but never felt 100% fulfilled.
"We are past the days where going to college can equate to years dedicated to simply 'finding yourself.'"
Why My Son Will Follow a Different Path
Bradley has always been a free spirit—someone who loves nothing more than growing his hair, riding around town on his scooter and surfing every possible wave ... even if that means he’s late for school when the waves are good.
As a mom of a surfer, I have come to learn—and accept—that there’s a certain surf culture, which says that when there are waves, you gotta surf them. It’s not like running, for example, which you can pretty much do whenever you want, because the road is always there. With surfing, you're at the mercy of Mother Nature's decisions to give you good waves (or not). And yes, sometimes that means missing first period.
Again, I realize I'm risking judgment from other parents here. But Bradley has always been a good and responsible student who is more than trustworthy to make up any missed work. Besides, he is more inspired about life when he's out there surfing, instead of being stuck in a classroom some days.
I get this, just like I get the fact that Bradley should not go to college next year. He’s just not ready—mainly because he’s not yet focused on his education and long-term career. For now, he has a fire in his belly for adventure and an insatiable desire to travel the world and surf the biggest and best waves.
But We're Not Paying for the Journey
It’s my job as his parent to accept who he is, support his goals and passions, and help him figure out the smartest way to do this. Sure, we discuss the importance of college and picking a career that will make him happy and independent, but that could be several years down the road before he’s ready to commit—and that’s O.K.
So will Bradley ever attend college? Yes. He knows the eventual economic consequences of only having a high school degree. But will he start when most of his peers do? No. He will do it when he’s ready.
In the meantime, my husband and I agree that he should catch all the waves he can. In fact, we are both a little envious of this opportunity and wish our parents had been a little more open-minded and encouraged us to follow our dreams—even if that meant doing so unconventionally.
And even though Bradley is already working and saving up for his adventure (we will support his travels, but not fund them), he does still have his eyes on the future. In fact, we spend a lot of time talking about ways to marry his passions and talents—like photography and videography of surfing and travel—with a career. Another thing I wish someone had done for me when I was his age.
In meantime, there are waves to catch.