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Your high school senior might be doing some soul-searching right now, wondering if going to college in the fall is what he or she really wants to do. You might be getting some pressure to permit (or even bankroll) some sort of break. Let’s think about this, with the understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this dilemma. If your child is wants to delay college – for a year or permanently – here are some questions to consider.

  1. Does your child have a plan? Maybe your child wants to travel across country or volunteer or start a business. Does your child have a plan for how this will happen (where she will go and how she will get there, which organization she wants to help, what market her business will reach)? The more well-thought the plan the more reasonable it is to endorse it. If your child’s ideas of what to do instead of college are vague and poorly-formed, then the structure a year of college provides might still be a good idea.
  2. Is your child running away from something? Escape for escape’s sake is not a positive foundation for the future. So if your child rejects college because he just doesn’t want to do what his friends are doing or because his girlfriend ditched him or because he can’t make up his mind about a major, then not-going is a way of avoiding things instead of a way of embracing something. Ask him to come up with a plan that’s so exciting he wants to run towards it, not just a plan for running away.
  3. Does your child know what happens next once the plan is in place? If “what happens next” is “I win American Idol and land a six-figure recording contract and go on a twenty-city tour” then a dose of reality (and not a dose of reality TV) is in order. Continue the conversation with “yes, and… if that doesn’t work out what next?” Having a back-up plan and a realistic appraisal of Plan A’s chances keeps both of you from chasing after moonbeams again in another six months.
  4. Where does your child see herself in five years? If she goes to college, in five years she will have her degree and probably be situated in a job that pays the rent. If she doesn’t go to college, but instead gets a job right out of high school, will that job pay enough to support an apartment and a car and a cat? If she doesn’t go to college but instead gets married right out of high school, will she (and her husband) someday feel trapped by her lack of work experience and lack of college degree? Most young people envision themselves living large in five years or less. Will the path your child has chosen lead to that?
  5. Is your child running away from you? If you have made going to college such a personal expectation – maybe even choosing the college your child will attend or dictating his major – then rejecting college altogether may be the only way your child can assert his independence. If you think this might be happening, now is the time to back off. Make it clear that you don’t care what college your child might attend and that you’ll support whatever major he selects. See if his attitude towards college improves.

College is not perfect for everyone and not every successful person went to college. But many eighteen-year-olds need a few more years of structure before they’re ready to stand on their own. Talk with your child and help him to honestly evaluate his options. Make clear how much or how little you can support him financially if he goes to college or if launches a different trajectory.

Support your child emotionally no matter what.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.