I am reading the book P.E.T. about communicating with children and there is a question. How would you address the situation when your 15 year old child comes home and tells you he isn’t interested in college because there are lots of ways to get ahead in the world?

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    Sometimes it is best to explore the world before going to college. This why some people take a gap year and travel or work. Commented Sep 30, 2012 at 10:30
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    @NewAlexandria College isn't the only source for education, and given the quality of the graduates I've seen recently, possibly not even the best source.
    – user420
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 12:39
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    @NewAlexandria My comment wasn't limited to individual representations. The institutions of higher education have become focused much more on the business side rather than the mission side for decades, and my personal experiences support this. However, this is getting rather off-topic. My main point, that "not going to college" != being "uneducated", is perfectly valid and relevant.
    – user420
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 13:51
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    @Beofett if your family doesn't have connections, upon which you can learn from professional & worldly life experiences, then learning in spite of the crap educational system is your only way out of a life-long wage slavery. There's no shame in facing that reality. Pollyanna-ism won't make reality go away Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 12:59
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    @NewAlexandria My life experiences beg to differ. That's the danger of making broad categorical statements: even though your life experiences may make it seem true, other people may have differing experiences that contradict yours. I do not have a college degree, nor does my family have "connections". I am self-taught, successful, and, dare I say it: better educated than a very large number of people with college degrees. But again, this is off-topic. If you'd like to discuss this further, please join me in Parenting Chat.
    – user420
    Commented Oct 3, 2012 at 13:13

5 Answers 5


First off, clarify why he isn't interested in college.

Saying that there's lots of ways to get ahead in the world sounds like it is only a small part of his thought process. The existence of multiple options isn't reason to dismiss the most popular option, and it is possible that he's really using this as an excuse to cover some anxieties (such as concern he might not get accepted to a college of his choice, over the difficulty of a college curriculum, or even paying for college).

If he doesn't have a clear idea of what he'd like to do instead of college, focus on why he thinks college is the wrong choice.

If, however, he has a clear plan for what he'd like to do instead, try to be as objective as possible. The truth is that you absolutely do not need a college degree. However, it does make some goals much more difficult to obtain, and will close off other options and opportunities entirely for you. Try to judge how realistic his plan sounds, and keep in mind that it isn't necessarily a problem to delay going to college a year or two. College can be a fall-back option if his plan doesn't pan out.

Work through his alternate plan with him, and discuss strengths, weaknesses, and, most importantly, risks and fallback plans in case of the unexpected. Going straight into a entrepreneurial enterprise may be a good option if he has a good idea, and has thought it through, but its still a risk, and he should know what to do if he finds that his business is failing.

A word of caution: "I'm not ready for college" might not sound like a good reason, but it really is. College can be a really expensive excuse to "get off the leash" and experience some new levels of independence and freedom from parental rules and oversight. If he feels he's not ready to go living on his own, and handle a simultaneous increase in studying and educational workload, don't dismiss this! You're better off coming up with a plan to transition him to be better able to handle these factors, rather than dumping tens of thousands of dollars (or equivalent currency or loans) into a year or two of unsupervised partying that will result in a low GPA or worse.

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    Just to add to the last paragraph. If this is the case, a gap year with an abroad program can allow for a "highschool" level curricula while experiencing being away from home, or vice versa, he could stay at home and attend classes at the local community college to ease into college level work and still have the structure of home. Just ideas for options. Commented Jan 17, 2013 at 20:11

A few things could work together to break through to them:

  • Put it to them to figure out a budget for independent living. Get them familiar with costs for home, home/rental insurance, HOA (they may need to pay one), car, car insurance, food, utility, entertainment, wedding expenses, costs of child healthcare, sports, books, at least 2 children (many do, maybe their partner wants 2-3),

  • Learn about their vision for their 'career'. Work with them to understand income levels and what is a realistic life within those thresholds.

  • Learn if they have entrepreneurial aspirations. How many entrepreneurs with zero-education had the same financial & social background of you/your family. What kinds of businesses did they start. What's the stats on eventual success. Get involved with a local biz chamber of commerce or a startup incubator for advice to the child – any place where you can meet people who will be mentors.


Pick a time when you have a free hour and sit down with him. First ask about the other ideas he has in mind. Hear them legitimately, and discuss how they might be feasible.
Then show him this picture from the US department of labor, or one like it:
income graph Then tell him that, with those being medians, it is possible to earn more without a college degree and less with one. Talk about a few famous examples: Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. But remind them that Larry Page of Google and Jeff Bezos of Amazon have college degrees too. Discuss that in order to be successful without a college degree, you have to really work hard, market yourself constantly, and still devote hours of learning to whatever topic you need. For example, does he want to go into coding or tech? He should be spending weeks learning how to code with books and websites. He should be learning how to code already. He needs to have a relentless drive for squashing bugs and a wealth of creativity for new ideas. Does he want to start his own business? Talk to him about what he needs to know for his business, and about his ability to manage people and funds.
After you've discussed living without a college degree, talk to him about college itself. Does he think it's a financial hardship? Does he think it's too much for him to handle right now? Talk these out with him. If he presents serious concerns about finances or if he's ready, address them and keep them in mind. Talk out ways you could get him ready, and ways you could fund his college. While you don't need to convince him to go to college, but you do need him to see that it is plausible.
Finally, ask him what he thinks now. If he still says he doesn't want a degree, that's fine. Talk to him about what he needs to do to succeed without one, and how he can get himself to that point.
If he does want a degree, assure him that you'll support him mentally and financially.
But, no matter what he thinks, remind him that, no matter what he chooses, you love him and you do whatever you need for him to be happy.

  • I believe the "Hear them legitimately" part of this answer (right in the beginning) should really be taken seriously. This may be the most important thing to do.
    – Jay
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 10:25

At that age you don't necessarily need to force the idea of college - but I would heartily recommend encouraging them to do enough to keep their options open.

You could try highlighting other occasions they have changed their mind, and point out that as long as they keep their grades high in school, when it comes to a decision time about college at least they will have the option of deciding to go.

You can also discuss the different career paths likely through gaining a degree or through going into business straight away. There have definitely been some success stories - highly motivated individuals who work their way up to top roles in companies - but in general your best plan for gaining a high salary is to go to a good college/university. Have a read of this question on Skeptics which discusses the cost/value of going to college for Americans.

  • Keeping you options open can also be destructive by specialising too late. Specialising is the key to success, unfortunately.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 11:50

I heard this during listening to one of the parenting podcasts. And I think its a good way to deal with situation like this.

Parents should put in their kids' heads that they have 3 options after school: college, work or army. And let them decide which way they want to choose.

I guess explanation of these three options should be done a bit before teen years, so they would accept it as an axiom.

Otherwise you will need to have long conversations on why not working/studying won't do any good.

  • You forgot trade school
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Jul 29, 2017 at 1:40
  • Army is not work? May be a locale thing.
    – Weckar E.
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 11:49

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