Deciding Whether College Is Right for Your Child

Deciding Whether College Is Right for Your Child
Page content

Every parent wants their child to find a fulfilling career. In the past, this usually meant obtaining a four-year degree. While education is still paramount in determining the right career path and opening doors, the path does not have to be the same for everyone.

Online learning has become a more viable option, and the emergence of multiple different types of jobs has created a universe of possibilities for today’s learner. Students may choose to go through the traditional four-year track at a college or university or attend a two-year community or junior college for an Associate of Arts degree. Depending upon their career aspirations, this can be just as beneficial as a four-year degree.

Here are some things to consider when talking with your child about his future career path, which should serve as a “litmus test” to determine whether he should consider a traditional college or another option.

1. Evaluate your child’s grades in her early high school years. This can often help determined whether a four-year academic plan is the best road to take. If it is obvious that she struggled in math and science, an alternative route might be best due to the increased attention universities now put on more advanced math and science areas. While there are tutoring programs and other ways to help if she is determined, it might be a sign that a four-year academic degree is not ideal if she has no interest in studying academic-based coursework.

2. Consider the type of learner your child is. If he is a kinesthetic learner and depends more on hands-on learning, it is possible he is less in tuned to academic styles of learning. In general, the college environment is set up to accommodate learners who are able to adapt readily to different styles of learning and not to those who learn primarily from the hands-on approach. While there are many fields that accommodate this style of learning, these are primarily found in the community or technical college realm.

3. Consider a two-year program. Four year degrees focus more on academic theory and scholarly applications, while two-year degrees are more involved in basics and laying a foundation. If your child is interested in getting into the labor force earlier and is not particularly inclined to scholastic type coursework, a two-year degree or certificate may be the better choice for her.

4. For more academic-minded students, aim higher. Rather than approach it as a four-year degree plan only, encourage brighter students to pursue a graduate degree beyond the traditional four-year course plan. By continuing their education beyond the conventional four years, they gain valuable higher-level learning and research in their chosen field that may provide him with added benefits upon entering the work force, including higher pay, more opportunities for growth and management potential.

5. What is the degree for? Asking this question is perhaps the most important aspect when deciding whether a four-year degree is the best route. Getting a degree for the status alone is a poor choice, given the high level of financial and time investment required. Brainstorm with your child and the school guidance counselor to determine whether a degree is needed, based upon your child’s primary career goals. Remember, the bottom line should be about what the degree will do for your child, how it will open doors to opportunities, and how it will help her grow as an individual.

6. Consider your ROI (return on investment). Think like a business owner. Whether you or your child will pay for the degree, consider whether he will increase his earnings by obtaining the degree. Some resources tell us that someone may earn over a million dollars more in their lifetime by obtaining a Bachelor’s degree, but if it takes 50 years to earn this million dollars, that’s only $20,000 per year. The average college graduate does earn more, but there are many other financial factors to consider when deciding whether it’s worth the investment. And in our current economy, some college graduates are not finding jobs. This makes the decision tougher for many, but looking at the overall investment versus the amount of income potential yearly is a good place to start.

One of the most important decisions that someone makes in their lifetime is whether to attend a four-year college, a community college or forego college altogether in sake of a technical program or training option. This decision should be carefully thought out with the help of various resources and people, including the school guidance counselor, your child’s teachers and data that has been collected over the years on your child’s abilities.


This post is part of the series: High School Career Planning

Students can –and should– take steps to prepare for their future careers starting in high school. Learn what they can do now and how you, as a parent, can help.

  1. Career Planning in High School: Helping Students to Think Beyond Graduation
  2. How to Align High School Coursework with the Future Career Path
  3. Things Students Can Do Outside of School to Prepare for Future Jobs and Careers
  4. Should Your Child Go to College? (That is The Question)