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What’s College For? Things To Keep In Mind As Your Teen Heads Off To School

Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Money, Jobs, & College

Maybe your kid is heading off to college this fall. She might already be there, in fact. Maybe your teen decided against college and is working instead. Maybe your teen is still in high school and you’re both wondering if college is the right next step. No matter what the situation, the question is, “What, really, is college for?”

College costs a whole lot of money. In recent years, college graduates have struggled to find jobs they couldn’t have got without going to college at all. If college is worth all the time and money, what value does it provide? Here are some of the benefits of college, only one of which has anything to do with a kid’s future career.

College gives young adults time to develop into functioning adults. We now know that the adolescent brain isn’t fully developed until about the time kids graduate from with a four-year degree. College provides a structured setting in which this final growth can take place.

College provides young adults with experience with making important choices and managing their own affairs. That last bit of brain development happens in the areas devoted to making decisions and seeing consequences. This means that experience in doing just that is important. Selecting courses, deciding on a major, and managing everyday affairs help make this development happen.

College students earn a credential that demonstrates an ability to complete something substantial. It doesn’t matter what the credential is in. What’s important is that a kid stuck with it, did what was required, and managed to earn a degree or other recognition. College grads are hired in fields different from their majors because the major isn’t so important as the fact that the grad actually earned a degree.

College students experience diverse people and points of view. Even if your child goes to the local community college and lives at home, attending college puts her in a bigger pond than high school did and gives her a window on a broader range of ideas.

College is a chance to create life-long connections to individuals and ideas. The people your teen meets at college are the ones who will become his network going forward. These are the people who will know about job opportunities, provide a place to stay when he moves to a new town, and be his cheerleader and support long into adulthood.

College develops intellectual skills that can be applied to many situations. No matter what major your child decides on and no matter what job she actually takes when she graduates, just going to college teaches ways of thinking and of solving problems that are valuable every day. College students acquire tools for thinking about problems and are equipped to solve them

Finally, college provides a possible entry into a particular career. A degree in education fits a person to become a teacher. A degree in accounting fits a person to become a CPA. Some careers require specific preparation and college provides that. But even if a graduate decides to do something completely different from his college major or if there are no jobs in his field, his college experience puts him ahead of others in the job market.

So, what’s college for? It’s for developing young people into better prepared, better equipped adults. Can your child achieve this without going away to school? Maybe. Can your child achieve this at a community college or technical school? Mostly. Can your child achieve this without going to college at all? Possibly. The decision to go to college and the choice of college depend on the teen and his family and certainly one-size does not fit-all.

But college isn’t just the first step towards a job. It’s much, much more than that. Launching a career in a specific field is not so important as all the personal development college provides.

© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.

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Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson

Dr. Patricia Anderson is a nationally acclaimed educational psychologist and the author of “Parenting: A Field Guide.” Dr. Anderson is on the Early Childhood faculty at Walden University and she is a Contributing Editor for Advantage4Parents.