What If Your Child Doesn’t Want To Go To College?

A young woman hairdresser styling a young woman's hair. Both are smiling at the camera

What If Your Child Doesn’t Want To Go To College?

Published February 1, 2024

A young woman hairdresser styling a young woman's hair. Both are smiling at the camera

You’ve scrimped, you’ve saved, and for years you’ve promoted the benefits of attending college during car rides and at the dinner table, but your child announces they have zero interest in attending college. What do you do?

The percentage of high school graduates who attend college hovers at around 62 percent, with roughly 40 percent going on to four-year institutions and the rest opting for two-year colleges. This means nearly half of high school graduates are choosing a different path.

But for parents who’ve spent years promoting the benefits of attending college to their children, perhaps because they attended themselves or because they didn’t and they wish they had, learning your child has no desire to attend college can feel like a disappointment.

One parent in our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group recently asked the question, “Would you be accepting or upset if your child(ren) expressed they have ZERO interest in going to college?” Hundreds of parents weighed in with replies.

Choosing Not to Attend College Is One Thing, Not Having a Plan Is Another

“They need to have a plan for becoming independent,” says Heidi H.B. “The plan doesn’t have to be college, but they have to have a plan and pursue it.”

Fellow parent Janki N.D. agrees. “I couldn’t do a general ‘lemme find myself’ vibe. I would want to see a plan for some training or certification at least. I work in architecture and see the money that’s in construction trades [for example.]”

It’s important to remember that anyone can be a financially independent, contributing member of society without a college degree, says Stephanie K.D. “I’m fine if either of my kids decides not to go to college, but they need to have a plan and a path, and there are plenty.”

There are so many success stories about students who chose not to attend college and found alternative and equally rewarding paths. “My 18-year-old is a manager at Starbucks part-time and learning to be a vet tech part-time, and loving both. She’s happy, I’m happy!” Stephanie K.D. says, adding that it’s important to appreciate when a child is honest about how they feel, even if it may surprise or disappoint you. 

Attending College Because a Student Feels They “Have To” Can Backfire

Too many students attend college because they think that’s what is expected of them, only to find themselves unhappy in that environment.

“I know way too many kids in college who are very unhappy because they don’t want to be there,” said Joy. R-J. “They would rather be in a trade school, working full time at their current jobs, or join the military, but their parents pushed them to go and they feel like they have to be there.”

Right After High School May Not Be the Best Time to Attend College 

Attending college right after high school may not be the right time for students. Sometimes it’s better to hold off until they’re ready, so long as they’re doing something productive with their time and they have a plan. 

“College isn’t the best route for everyone,” says Joy R-T. “For some, it’s just simply not the right time. Some people just need to experience life a little more before they go. If any of my kids decided college wasn’t right for them, I would accept that and help them pursue another avenue in life.”

Kristi W-T didn’t attend college until she was 32, and now has a master’s degree. “I’d be 100 percent supportive if my child didn’t want to go to college,” she says. “But that’s because I know my past and understand college isn’t for everyone.”

College Does Not = Success, a Job, Or Wealth

At the end of the day, having a college degree doesn’t guarantee anything. “College is about learning skills to get a job,” says Stefanie B. “But so is a vocational trade and so are certificate and licensure programs, and we can’t forget our military.”

She points to the many quality vocational trade programs that come with an apprenticeship, which often means getting paid throughout four + years of school and training.

“Society has taught our generation that one must go to college to be successful, so we are all now paying tons of money to fund college degrees,” she says, pointing to a dwindling labor force and employers who say quality workers are hard to come by. “As a result, we as consumers will be paying increasingly high rates for services — it’s supply and demand.” 

There are plenty of careers that will allow you to make a decent living without having a college degree. “Does anyone stop to think how much your hairstylist is making?” says Stefanie B. “My kids need to be productive citizens and kind humans. They need to have some skills to get a job, but it doesn’t have to be college.”

College Is Too Expensive to Pursue If a Student Isn’t Into It

Stephanie H.’s father pushed her to attend college at 18 when she didn’t know what she wanted to do. “I took on debt for a degree I don’t use and am still paying off, so I would never advise that route to my child,” she said. “College is expensive if you don’t know what you plan to do with it.”

In the end, as long as a high school graduate has a good plan, ideally one that includes plans for supporting themselves, that’s all any parent can hope for. 

“Share some statistics with them about the bump in salary that typically comes with a degree because it’s good information to have,” said Hools W. “But if they’re not ready to go to college, it’s probably better to wait anyway.”

As long as they were pursuing something meaningful to them, most parents said they’d support a child’s decision not to attend college. 

“We told our children they should choose what’s right for THEM, not US,” said Leslie N. “College or no college didn’t matter. They chose college. But only because THEY wanted it.”

Become a member of our Paying for College 101 Facebook Group for free and join this and other conversations with parents just like you.

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Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

What Is a Trade School? Your Guide to This Path

Is It a Good Idea to Take a Gap Year?

Why Taking a Gap Year Could Be a Senior’s Next Best Decision

JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS & CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS: 

PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

HOW TO FIND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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