Talking to Your Kids About College

When I was in elementary school, I was always told, get good grades, study hard, go to college, get a job, and get promotions (with pay raises).  Well, I am a rule follower so that is exactly what I did.  I was a good student, got scholarships, went to a private college, got a job right out of college.  After 1 year I started a Master’s program, finished in two years, went on for another certificate, got a promotion, moved and got a few more promotions, and here I am, making a decent salary but feeling stuck because there are not a lot of different options for me in my position.


For years, while my kids were still quite young, I was telling them the same thing…try your best in school, graduate, and go to college.  I really didn’t think there was an alternative.


But now I know differently.  You see, I don’t think that college is the only avenue for either of my children.  In fact, I feel like a whole new world has been opened up to them, a world that has always been there, but one in which I didn’t know existed.


My son has always struggled in school.  Last year he was diagnosed with dysgraphia, similar to dyslexia, only it is trouble with writing.  My son was in 3rd grade and his writing ability was that of a Kindergartener.  Not only did he have this disability, but he also struggles with anxiety around it.  This got me wondering, how is he going to survive Middle School?  Or High School?  And what about College?  Writing essays are going to be extremely difficult and anxiety inducing for him.

Another fun tidbit is that my son is smart.  I know, I know…every mother says her son is the smartest.  But my son did very well on his IQ test…way above average.  He is capable of so many wonderful things.  Our school systems today are not meant for him.  He spends hours every week, learning how to cope in our educational system.  I need to find a spot where instead of coping to fit into this world of education, they create a culture where he can thrive.


I am not sure if college will be that place.  I don’t know what will be the right place for him, but I am sure with support he will find it.  Therefore, I need to stop telling him that the plan is already made for him, and that he will be going to college, because frankly, I don’t know.  Learning about financial independence has opened my eyes to the fact that college is not the only path for success.


I have had to start talking about all the possibilities that lie ahead, and yet even add that I don’t even know everything that is out there.


This leads me to another discussion I had with my daughter the other day.  If I wasn’t going to make my son go to college, why would that have to be the plan for my daughter.  We were chatting about what she loves to do, which is animation and drawing at the moment.  Now previously, I shuddered at the fact that she would someday want to go to college for art.  What would she do with an art degree?  She wasn’t going to make a living that way.


But, I truly believe now that she can.  She can live the life she wants by pursuing any of her passions.  And I need to stop telling her how she is going to do it, because I just don’t know how.

I will never forget that conversation we had and the look of absolute relief when I told her that she didn’t have to go to college if she didn’t want to.  “Really?”  she said.  “For real, my lovely daughter.”  But college may still be in her future.  She is only 11, you know.  I told her about all the opportunities she could start pursuing now or when she gets a few years older.  How she can start her own business or do freelance art for others.  She was so excited.  I couldn’t believe it.

But, this mindset is not accepted by everyone.

The next day after our conversation, my daughter was sitting with her Grandmother who started telling her about how she would go to college and be very successful.  She even insisted she may go to the private college where grandma is an alumni.  Both my husband and I laughed at this, which shocked Grandma.  Of course, that would an option (or maybe more of a plan than an option).  You see, Grandma is of the traditional thought process.  Her grandchildren are smart, will work hard in school and attend college.  That is the way things should be done.


My daughter smiled at me across the room and gave me a knowing look.  She knows we can’t change Grandma’s thinking at this point, but she knows that I get her and that I will support her and understand that there are so many alternative options for her.


I don’t know where my kids will be 5 years or 8 years from now.  I will help them pursue whatever their passions are.  But I will always be a mom, so my last words to my daughter were, “well, if you don’t go to college, you do have to be working or making a living somehow.”  I wanted to make sure she knew that she can’t just live in my house without pursuing something.  It is so hard to take this mom hat off sometimes.

I am excited for my children.  Of who they are and who they will become.  The doors have been opened for them, and I intend to do my best so that they can see all possibilities and pursue what they want to pursue…not because I or their grandmother think they should.


Will your children go to college?  What is their plan?


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