Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sending kids off to college part one : the kids who don't know what they want to do

For what these are worth, here are my observations on kids going off from high school to college and their families trying to figure out what they should do to help.

I have been talking to my nephew a lot about this and thinking of all the students I have advised coming in and in first year.

It is every parent's hope that if they can get their kid into the right four year program and get them graduated then that kid is set.

Hopefully in a career they like with a future and security.

Having been this exact person myself I understand that you just want your kid to be safe, happy, and successful however that is defined. None of us want our child to be that middle-aged person scrambling for work, or that old person adding up the cans at the checkout counter in the supermarket trying to calculate if they can afford it.

And to be truthful who we also want to graduate is ourselves. We want to know, we hope, that this degree will mean we can stop worrying and that we have one successfully launched - that we are done with the hard part.

Maybe at one point and for some generations that guarantee from a college was true but I can tell you it isn't any more.

This generation entering college, the research shows, will change their careers, not their jobs but their actual careers, a minimum of four times in their working lives. Very often this will mean total retraining and more education. Accountants will become nurses, turn into small business owners teaching yoga, become vet's assistants. I have heard for example that 30% of recent law school grads are not working in any area of the law five years later these days.

And this won't be because they have to but because they want to much of the time.

Let's be honest.

The main casualties of this economy have been those who worked in one industry for 20, 30 years and then saw that industry die. They were often those who had great skills, but single industry skills. Reinventing yourself at 50 is no joke, btw.

So the first thing we have to get our heads around as parents is that it is unlikely that they will be set for life after one college degree. Maybe started on an interesting career, maybe just introduced to one of the careers students will do in their working lives. 

This is not the one and only roll of the dice.

So what does this mean for your child's higher education?

First, and I am assuming that one of goals you and your child have is employment, you have to think of skills.

Remember that Darwin didn't actually say that the fittest survived, what he said was that it was the most adaptable that did. A lot of people don't know that.

Your child will only really have security and a satisfying work life if they have a really well-equipped tool box of skills that other people may need.

What I would say to any young person now is never turn down an opportunity to learn a new skill and get a certification. 

It doesn't have to be contained in one degree, and even in that degree try to get as many real skills as you can. 

In fact one of the issues is the kid who has no clue what they want to do and is pushed into university by parents who are desperate for that degree, so that kid is set. I have these kids in my classes all the time. These students are wasting their time and their parents cash in many cases because everyone at home is in such a panic. The worst outcome to me is that this scenario often puts kids off the whole idea of education long term, which is really unfortunate.

It takes nerve to think of the gap year - that year between high school and university - and in some cases I really think it is sensible. One year off to clear the head is a good idea and one year in your late teens does not mean that a kid is going to lose their grip on reality and the next thing you know they will be sitting on a sidewalk with a paper cup.

To my mind, and with what I have seen, a gap year where the student has gone traveling is a good idea (an education in itself) and so is a year spent doing other skill building. 

The main thing is to spend this time skill building.

A second language, first responders, nail art, web design, whatever, any thing useful offered at the community colleges as long as it is a real skill is fine. As far as I can see what a kid does doesn't matter just as long as it is done with some seriousness. You want them to keep learning. This generation has to get used to learning their whole lives, as should we all come to think of it.

A gap year spent in the basement playing video games however - not so much, and maybe neither is another year spent doing minimum wage fast food and hanging out with your friends.

In general get them out and about and keep them out of the basement if they don't want to go to school right away. The basement usually goes nowhere.

So be open minded about community colleges or other training if your child isn't sure about a four year college/university commitment. Many now have agreements where the credits are transferrable too. In fact some of my best students are grads who come to university after a community college diploma - they are organized, know how to study, and are highly motivated - the exact opposite of the crew who, often out of high school and in my classes because their parents want them to be, skip class, have late assignments, and show up hung over. These are the kids who flunk out and have a mother like one I know who called me up and said "I don't understand this all her sisters went to university and did so well, she has to do this." Yes, well maybe, but lady first of all you have to deal with the fact this daughter needs to get her desire to do hair out of her system, if ever.

The best thing you can do for the undecided child is keep them learning - that is what will move them forward and make the path to college one year later if that seems right so much clearer.

Tomorrow sewing shots and then the next day how to choose a program and a college, and where parents and students can go wrong. 



9 comments:

Cindy said...

This is so timely. Thank you. I needed to hear (read) this.

Anonymous said...

so hard not to be crazed at various stages in the parenting life (labor quilting story is priceless....I started cleaning out an under the counter kitchen cupboard and didn't want to leave til it was clean and sorted....crazy). Similar sense of urgency and panic in connection with the high school to college transition.
As always your advice is so spot on.

Love the Daisy stories/pictures......dogs + sewing = sanity

Ceci

Janee said...

Great post! I've often wondered if two of my kids would have been better off with a gap year before heading to college. My youngest has been out of college two years, working as a server/bartender at a good restaurant while also doing intern work in his "real" field. He's just announced that he plans to take a leave of absence and travel for a while, and we're actually really happy with the idea. While he's earning a fairly comfortable living, he's not really happy with the job, and it certainly isn't what he got all that education for. I feel that a long road trip to see other areas of our country will be just what he needs to find a focus that will see him into the next step of his adult life.
Thanks for such a thoughtful post!

Dr. Fun (AKA Sister) said...

Perfect timing - thanks for this insight! My 17-year-old soon-to-be senior initially wanted to continue as a busboy after graduation and live with his fellow busboy, who is quite the slug. When we nixed that, he decided he'd go into the Air Force - straight in. An ACT tutor talked him into thinking about Air Force ROTC at a college, but it still feels forced, and he's got no real ambition. This is pretty hard to take for 2 parents who are both doctors and knew exactly what they wanted to do from the get-go! That gap year might be what's needed - but away from the restaurant crowd, as you mentioned. I'm on the edge of my seat for part 2....great distraction from the blasted bathing suit I'm trying to finish!

Jodie said...

I linked to this post so my students could see this (I teach high school Foods Studies). In Alberta (at least) students can graduate and go off to post.secondary at age 17. Lots of times not ready....I like the idea of continuing to learn which is something we all should do just for ourselves

Paula said...

Thank you for posting this. I am Mom to a son going into Grade 10. Even choosing his electives for this coming school year was hard as he doesn't have an idea of what he wants to do. Looking forward to your next post. As always, enjoy reading your sewing posts too.

Sewcat said...

This is a terrific post! I see this from so many angles. My two children were motivated and went straight to college. But 3 of my best friend's 4 children have done gap years. One in Spain, one for 5 years as a US marine and one in Micronesia. It changed them and matured them for university.

I also teach at a local university. And I see students who don't have a clue as to why they are sitting in my class other than "everyone goes to college so....." The worst of these was a 2nd semester senior, majoring in accounting and economics who asked me what would be necessary to do to get a higher degree in Chemistry! Why? Because he had realized that accounting was not what he wanted to do but science was. A gap year and some exploration would have saved him time and his parents money because the only way to transition to chem is to almost start over.

Marci Milus said...

Thanks for a great post! I have a 22-yo son who did just enough in high school to get by. He really enjoyed his agri classes but knew that going to a 4-year college was not for him. Fortunately, he was strong enough to stand up to his PhD father who was adamant that he WOULD go to college. He had worked a Chick-fil-A (Great company BTW) during high school and continued to do so after graduation. Six months later he applied to become an electrical apprentice. He will get his journeyman's license in about 6 months, LOVES what he is doing, makes good money doing it, and has a guaranteed job when he finishes. He's talked about taking some courses in electrical engineering once his fiancé finishes grad school and I know he will do well because he WANTS it, nobody is telling him he has to do it. Not everyone is cut out for college, especially immediately after high school.

Anne Frances said...

Thank you for this. In thirty years of university teaching I always encouraged potential students to take a positive and creative gap year and saw the difference it made. Indeed, when it was much less usual I did it, using the time to learn another language. All my three girls had a gap year involving at least half of it out of the country and at least some of it on another continent. In one case she came back to a different programme from what she had originally planned, and in both the others it has had a major influence on their choices within their programmes and afterwards. Everything you say I would fully endorse. It needs saying loudly given the preference of so many policy makers for tickbox assessments/evaluations which privilege content over skills. Thank you.