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When Your Child Says No to College

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Updated on Apr 2, 2014

The road to college can be a rocky one. Between SATs, ACTs, tough courses, teacher recommendations, a cutthroat pool of applicants, extracurriculars, college essays, and everything in between, it’s an exhausting journey. So what should you do if your child says she doesn’t want to take the trip? First, take a deep breath. As a parent it’s natural to want the best for your child. And for many parents, college is more than the best choice; it’s the only choice. But before you tell your child she’s grounded for the rest of her life, consider the cold hard facts: College may seem like the ticket to success, but getting your kid there is only half the battle. It’s completion that matters. And only 2 out of 5 students who enter a public four-year college manage to snag a degree within five years. For two-year colleges, the graduation rate is even more abysmal (28.9% in 2007). While it’s taking many students more than five years to graduate, many students aren’t graduating at all—nearly 30% of all students who enter college don’t return for their sophomore year. That hurts. Because the cost of college is anything but cheap. According to The College Board, this year’s average price at a 4-year private college is a whopping $23,712 per year. Public 4-year colleges rang in this year at $6,185 per year, and public 2-year colleges at $2,361 per year.

So, as painful as it is to hear that your child doesn’t want to go to college, it may be less painful than it would be a year from now, $23,712 poorer and no closer to hanging his diploma in the den. Sending a kid with no interest to college is like sending a kid who’s not feeling hungry to an all-you-can-eat buffet… a waste. Most worthwhile careers require education. But they don’t all require a college education. Some train future workers through apprenticeships, some through hands-on experience, others through specialized training programs. The most important thing you can do as a parent is help your child figure out what he cares about, what makes him tick, what he’s passionate about. The college classroom is not for everyone. Here are 6 great ways for high school graduates to spend some time off, or find their life’s calling outside university walls:

For Nature Lovers

Not everyone dreams of life behind a big corporate desk. For kids with fresh air running through their veins, the Student Conservation Association might be just the ticket. Can you see your teen traveling through 18 national parks as a member of the National Park Service’s Exotic Plant Management Team? Giving tours of Native American archeology sites along the Knife River? Working to monitor endangered birds with conservation experts in Hawaii’s Hakeakala National Park? Trolling the vast reaches of the Alaskan backcountry? Well, brush up their resume! Those were some of the jobs SCA had available when this article went to print. In addition to providing housing, health insurance, and travel expenses to and from the site, SCA interns get a living allowance of $160 per week, and an education award of $1,200-$4,725 once their gig is up. But more than that, SCA gives teens a chance to explore a career in over 30 conservation related fields. 

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