Thirty years ago, when my generation went to college, it was a fairly straightforward process. High school seniors would do their best to get good grades, concentrate on one or two after-school activities, do some civic volunteer work, write a great essay, work a few hours at a part-time job — and score high on the SAT.
Competition was tough at the best schools, but it was a rational process.
Something changed. Getting into any college today is akin to battling lions in the Coliseum. College test-prep services abound. Application “consultants” have sprouted from nowhere. The word is out about applying to a community college for two years and then transferring to another school to save money. Competition is fiercer than ever, and expenses are higher than ever.
Parents everywhere are literally pulling their hair out, and sometimes even their teens’ hair, too, in the obsessive quest to get their child into the best college money can buy!
College is not what it used to be. Yes, if your grad has aspirations in professional fields such as medicine, law, or business, a college degree will be essential. A notable school will probably make a difference in the long run — although that will more likely apply to graduate work where the student will specialize, rather than in the undergrad years.
How will learning about “safe spaces,” “microaggressions,” and medieval literature help a kid in life?
For just about any other profession, however, a college education may not be quite as necessary. Certainly, jamming the child into a first-tier school for a liberal arts degree, or other vague majors like “women’s studies,” is making less and less sense.
The economy is undergoing dramatic changes. Entrepreneurs, self-starters, those with specialized knowledge, and those with expertise in emerging technologies and culture are increasingly valued. Intellectual development is of unquestionable value, but college is not the only place to obtain it — and American colleges have been headed in the opposite direction for some time.
They have become echo chambers for leftist values rather than true academic innovation. Why send a child to a leftist university, to learn about “safe spaces,” “microaggressions,” and medieval literature? How will that help a kid in life? How will that help pay down the debt students incur in the process?
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Instead, consider ways your graduate can develop practical and marketable skill sets.
Ideally, they will find these outlets themselves. Let them explore! Robert Ulich, a German émigré who had a visionary perspective on American education in the 1950s, believed that by ninth grade, all kids should have mastered the core elements of reading, writing, and mathematics. High school, he believed, should be reserved for exploration, for kids to find what vocation might inspire them.
Our educational system doesn’t permit this — not even close — but as a parent, you can foster it. Teenagers don’t know what their life trajectory is going to be in college, anyway. Why send them into a major that will be of questionable value?
Instead, remember that our kids are remarkably savvy about so many things, thanks to the internet. They have found innovative ways to communicate and create. This should be encouraged, because they are more likely to stumble across something that inspires them. As a parent, if you have saved for college anyway, you and your child may find that another route of practical and real-world education may serve them better.
There’s no rush to go to college. It’s expensive. Take some time to consider options.
There’s a reason some kids spend a year traveling or working before applying to college — for a so-called “gap year.” It’s to move them into the real world, to gain an appreciation for what the real world needs. It should not be just a year of “indulgence,” however. Think about what type of person your kid may end up driving around in an Uber. If your teen is extroverted and talkative, he or she could end up chauffeuring someone in a field he finds interesting. Perhaps that individual will be impressed and offer to mentor them. Who knows? The possibilities in a technologically advanced society are now endless.
A college degree is not necessarily worthless — most of us still need it — but its value has become questionable. Your child may turn out to be someone who needs that academic experience, who thrives in that world. That’s fine, too.
What’s important is that you, as a parent, stay in tune with your children. Communicate with them. Gauge their interests. And don’t rush to any decisions.