What if my kid doesn’t want to go to college?

“9 years old, hey mama, I want to rap. She told me I could do it, should have never told me that.”

My son wrote those lyrics as a teenager. At:

  • 8 years old, he was listening to Eminem (yes, I know).
  • 10 he started writing rap lyrics.
  • 13 he started performing.
  • 23, he makes a living rapping, producing, and engineering.

Is he a college grad with multiple degrees making millions? Nope.

Is he happy, making a living doing what he loves? Yup.

The Big Question:

Is he a drugged-out thug? No – in fact, he doesn’t drink, do drugs, use guns or smoke cigarettes. He’s succeeding in an industry known for bad habits and high failure rates.

“I was into music, and they were in the streets, while I was in the house writing lyrics on the sheet.” – teenage Mpulse

He had a passion, and I supported it.

No one thought I should.

I thought his time was spent productively. Head bent over paper as he scribbled lyric after lyric. He taught himself how to use music software and learned engineering. He taught himself to make beats, learned to perform, learned to sing.

My son gave himself an education. And I couldn’t be happier.

What do you do when your child finds a passion at a young age that you, as the older, wiser person feels certain is not a viable life plan?

Let’s talk about the five things you should – and shouldn’t – do.

1. Don’t Sledgehammer Their Dreams

Let your kid’s dream evolve. If you want him to start submitting college applications and he’s determined to make it as a drummer in a techno band, compromise.

Establish financial parameters and let him rock. If you can afford to subsidize it financially, do it.

The United States has a bias against vocational training – we prefer academia.

That’s wrong.

Not everyone is destined for college – and college educations these days often net minimum wage jobs.

As my kid wrote for Kids in America, “So many failed dreams trapped inside a dorm.”

Let ‘em try.

2. Craziness Requires a Plan

Life Plans not college plans

When your kid wants to pursue a career that isn’t, well, conventional, it’s your responsibility as a parent to give him or her the worst case scenario.

Give your kids the straight scoop, and then help them figure out a way to accomplish it without college.

Treat passions as seriously as you would treat college applications. Don’t discount your child’s life work as “hobbies.” Your child is more than the sum of her education.

Does she want to be a pro golfer? Help her find tournaments where she can make a few bucks and practice for the pro circuit.

3. Your Life Plan Doesn’t Matter

We all want the best for our kids. We all want our kids to be open-minded, happy, healthy, self-fulfilled…and to move out of the house.

Check out another of our other favorite articles: 8 Ways To Raise Kids Who Can Cope

If your kid has an unconventional life plan that doesn’t involve college, don’t put your needs for your kid before his needs for himself.

Entrepreneurship is paying off better than years of traditional education for many. And research suggests entrepreneurs are happier than their more “traditional” counterparts.

My daughter, who was on a season of a reality show, jump-started that into a lucrative career as a make-up artist. She took a few technical classes, drummed up some clients, and made a go of it.

“Most were brainwashed to do everything that their parents want, went to law school because musician isn’t a paying job . . . .” -Mpulse, Kids in America

Note to self: Brainwashing kids is a bad thing.

4. Lend Economic Support

If your kid wants to follow a road less traveled, and you have college money set aside that she’s not going to use, make a deal: Ask for a business plan of start-up costs and expectations.

Allow your child to use a portion of the college fund to help her launch her (planned out) career as a dog walker or a stylist or an animal rights activist, but if the plan doesn’t work, and she needs to hit Plan B, which includes college (or technical training).

She’s on her own for whatever she used up.

Kids are resilient and resourceful when chasing their own dreams –not so much when they’re being forced to chase yours.

5. Tick Tock, Count The Clock

Say you do all of the above: You lend support to the life plan, help plot a course, grit your teeth and put that college education on the back burner, agree to fund, in part, the dream . . . well, the tricky part of this is that there’s a shelf life for plans that you deem wildly unlikely to be successful.

(Keep that “wildly unlikely to succeed” part to yourself, now and forever.)

Let him know that you’re not going to support a 40-year-old playing in a garage band. That’s when dreams become hobbies.

This is a great time to make the deal for Plan B: I’ll support you, and I wish you luck and will help all I can. But…if you aren’t heading towards (and meeting) your goals, then get your college application or job-hunting hat ready.

Not all kids are destined for college, and that’s okay!​

Remember your own youth.

Let them pursue their own version of a successful life. Don’t force your child into a life he never really wanted, just because you “should.”

“Broke and happy I followed that road exactly. And it’s paying off, it takes a winner to take a loss. So follow your dreams, it’ll pay off.” – Mpulse

  • Julie,

    Thank you for your article. It gave me the support I needed to navigate my thoughts and emotions as my 19 year old recently told me that she does not want to return to community college after this Fall 2019. I was not surprised by her announcement because she had a rough time academically in high school. We are in talks about her options to traditional education and doing what she loves.

    I am actually excited about being on this journey with her as she begins to discover who she is and what she desires to do at this stage of her life.

    Again, thank you!

  • I can’t tell you how much I love this advice. Not every kid needs to go to college! My husband had on-the-job training in his family business, and while I got a BA in a “useless” degree (English), I used a whopping total of three classes to start a thriving writing and editing business. Now the trick is to figure out how to start an educational savings account that doesn’t necessarily have to go toward college . . .

    • Ashley, I’m with you. My husband spent his life as a Teamster and is now retired at 57. I got a degree in, like you, English, and work as a paralegal. Not retiring at 57, either! Glad you’re doing well in your writing and editing!

    • Ashley, thanks for the positive feedback! In another life, I actually recruited international college study to do internships in the USA. The kids were always asking me what college I attended and how cool my job was (it was a cool job). Trying telling college students I didn’t need a degree to get to where I was…they just couldn’t understand. LOL. The way Julie approached the situation is exactly what I hope I would do with my children, one day. This focus on college for everyone makes 2/3 of the population (in the USA, anyway) feel like a part of them is a failure before they even have a chance to get started. Not everyone has to – or needs to – go to college. I still haven’t finished…not even close.

      Thanks for reading, and sharing your story!

      • Thanks, Ashley! You’ve done pretty damn well as an entrepreneur! I, for one, am glad to be a part of your endeavors!

    • Got my damn english degree too. Although i have homeschooled 5 children and still going, I’m 44 now and feeling the burn to DO SOMETHING and with this stupid degree that is 20 years old. I’m supporting my 19 year old son and he isnt going to college …yet

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