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Encouraging Heroes. You can be one too.

A friend of mine has a son who dutifully sent off college applications and was accepted by two of them. He then promptly announced that he really didn’t want to go to college. His father’s response: “You will go, like it or not.”

In my opinion, you could easily swap the father’s words to: “I am going to flush tens of thousands of dollars down the toilet.”

Two questions: Does your child need to go to college? And, if so, should they go immediately after high school?

Let’s start with the first. If you’re preparing important legal documents for me or my business, I hope you’ve completed extensive schooling, including college and law school. If you’re taking a scalpel to my chest cavity, I’ll insist that you finished medical school, and that you didn’t specialize in keg stands.

But if you’re building a custom entertainment space in my basement, do I care if you have a degree? Nope. I’d like to peruse your resume, see samples of your work, and ask your previous clients if you pilfered their collection of superhero DVDs. I won’t care if you went to college.

If you’re listing my home for sale, I’ll examine your track record and marketing efforts, perhaps discuss your strategy, and certainly judge you if your business card sports a picture of you talking on a phone. But I’ve never once asked a real estate broker about their college experience. Have you?

Some well-intentioned advocates for education have sounded a trumpet for all young people to go to college. Education expert and author Sir Ken Robinson, however, makes a valid point by suggesting that we actually demean some of our most important vocational fields by attaching a stigma of “no college” to their talented and hard-working laborers.

This is not an anti-college column; it’s an anti-pressure-to-always-go-to-college column. It’s not necessary for everyone, yet we warn kids that they’re making a huge mistake if they don’t automatically march off to a university and shell out thousands of dollars. Too many of them will march right back out of college with nothing to show but student loans and empty solo cups.

Sure, a college degree might mean a significant increase in lifetime earnings. At the same time, a friend of mine with an MBA is currently waiting tables. There are no guarantees of anything. There likely are many people reading these words who are quite successful – and debt-free – with only a high school diploma on the wall.

However, should college be the right choice for your child- and often it is – perhaps it’s not so much a question of ‘if,’ but of ‘when.’ I propose that a university education could very well be a nice option for many students . . . if they wait a year or two.

How many young adults truly are ready for university life from a maturity standpoint? I’ve heard the argument about how important the social development aspect can be, but does anyone really question the social skills of teenagers today? I’m not sure these additional social lessons are worth a mountain of student loans.

The primary goal of college is to prepare a young adult for their professional career. But the thrill of tasting independence for the first time has the same brain-numbing effect on most of us, and at eighteen we’re not exactly focused on the task at hand.

Consider another path. Suppose that a student went to work for one or two years before heading off to college, and learned a few things:

–  What they’re really preparing for

–  Work ethic

–  The value of money

–  How to get up before eleven

A young adult would receive an entirely different form of education – and potentially bank some money – instead of running up loans for a college experience for which they’re not quite ready.

And if they’re going to celebrate their freedom with natural youthful exuberance – along with the usual questionable choices – it’s better that they do it before investing their time and your money into a college career, would you agree?

With suffocating debt a real problem for millions of young people, we need to consider different options. Pressuring every student to make a decision they’re not emotionally ready to make – because we’ve always done it that way – makes no sense.

Just something to think about.

Dom Testa is an author, speaker, morning radio show host, and has kept a ficus tree alive for twenty two years. He’s also the founder and president of The Big Brain Club, a non-profit foundation that helps young people recognize that Smart Is Cool. More info at www.DomTesta.com.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents discussing college with their students.