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Is College the Right Choice for My Teen?

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

“Where are you going to college?” It’s the big question your teen (and you) starts getting around junior year of high school. But is college the right path for your teen? I have been witness to some hot debates lately where one side says that a college degree is a rite of passage, while another side says “I was successful without it! It’s a waste of time and money.” The answer is somewhere in between, and complex in its simplicity. The answer to the question of whether your teen should go to college is – it depends. It depends on why they want to go. But when you ask a teen why they want to go to college, they usually come up with one of the following answers:

  • They shrug and don’t know why.

  • Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Society tells them they “should” go.

  • Because their parents tell them they have to go to college (sorry parents!).

  • All of their friends are going to college.

So let’s take a look at the two extremes by starting with the benefits of obtaining a college degree:

  • Higher earning potential. On average, individuals with a college degree are still earning more than those with a high school diploma. This is due to specialized knowledge and skills gained during the process of earning a degree that are necessary for certain careers.

  • Expanded career opportunities. When all other things are equal when applying for a job or being considered for a promotion, an individual with a college degree would edge out someone without one. It’s an easy qualifier for employers to consider. And even if a certain occupation doesn’t require a degree, the employer might.

  • Networking. College is a great opportunity to build connections for professional networking. This can be done through professors, peers, and industry professionals who all become invaluable resources for future job prospects and collaboration.

  • Cultural exposure. College often exposes students to a variety of cultures, ideas and perspectives which can lead to greater open-mindedness.

  • Personal growth and fulfillment. College is not only about academics, but it's a place to learn valuable skills such as independence, time management, dealing with stress, and developing resilience. Also, setting the goal of earning a college degree and achieving it is highly fulfilling.

On the other hand, there are people who will tell them it’s a waste of money, a waste of time, or they don’t need a degree to be successful. The alternative perspective could argue the following:

  • Rising tuition costs. Many believe that the cost of college has outweighed the financial benefits, leading to substantial financial debt for many graduates.

  • Alternative paths to success. With the rise of online education, extensive vocational training opportunities, credentialing programs, apprenticeships, etc, it is very possible to gain valuable skills and knowledge, leading to great job prospects and career success.

  • Mismatch of real work skills. Some say that colleges fail to deliver real-world skills that are applicable to the job market upon graduation. There are many aspects to jobs that they “just don’t teach you in college.”

  • Personal entrepreneurship. Many self-built entrepreneurs say that a college education isn’t necessary to start a business venture. They argue that self-education, networking, and practical experiences are more valuable.

Going back to the original question of which path your teen should take – college or no college, I believe that knowing the end goal is the first step. They could be spending their high school years exploring, discovering who they are, what they love, and what they are good at. They can do this through their elective courses, volunteer work, job shadowing, interviewing professionals about what they do, reading, watching videos, researching, etc. This will help them to identify possible career paths – and that should drive their decision-making on whether college is a necessary step to reach their goals. So when I say “it depends,” it depends upon what they want to do as an end result. What career makes sense for them. I am not saying that 17-year-olds need to decide what they want to do for the rest of their lives, but make a reasonable, well-thought-out first step into the world of work. That’s why we start our entire college planning process with a career and academic assessment. It gives teens and their families so much valuable information to start the process of self-discovery, leading to a well-informed decision about whether college is a necessary step in their pursuit of their goals.


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