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.