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Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Day I Told My Daughter She Didn't Have To Go To College

"I'm not sure I want to go to college," my daughter said to me. I guess the look on my face made it pretty clear what I thought of that and she hastily amended it with, "For the first year, I mean."

"You want to take a year off?" I clarified.

"Yeah. I just don't think I need to start right away."

I chewed my lip, considering my words carefully. I know this kid. Now is not the time to pick a battle, especially when college is four and a half years away.

"I've known people that decided to take some time off before college," I said. "And you now what? A lot of them never did go. They got jobs and car payments and apartments to pay for and they didn't ever do it."

"I'm gonna go, Mom. I just think I should wait."

"For what?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "I just….might not want to do that once I'm out of school. I might want to do other stuff."

"Like what?" I repeated. "What's your plan? Because you're not sitting on the couch eating Cheetos and playing on your phone all day. You don't get a year of summer vacation, you know."

She rolled her eyes. "I know."

"So what's the plan? What are you doing? Getting a job? Taking classes at a tech school?"

"I was thinking….maybe backpacking across Europe or something."

"Ah." I nod. "That does sound exciting."

"Doesn't it? Seeing the world, traveling to new countries! Touching buildings that have thousands of years of history and meeting cool people and stuff!"

Her eyes are shining, and I can't help but smile. I start to shake my head, ready to give her the "Honey, you've got plenty of time for that, do it after you graduate" speech.

And then I stopped. And I thought. And I thought some more.

You see, I was raised in a house of low expectations.

I'm not slamming my parents with that – they certainly wanted me to be a respectful, productive citizen and a good person and they raised me to be that. What they didn't do was raise me to expect or even plan to go to college.

For my mother, college was a puzzling, useless sort of thing for her daughter to be considering. Why did I need it? If I wanted to get a job, I could go to secretarial school or something. But really, I didn't need a job if I got married, right? My mother didn't graduate high school, and for her, higher learning was something that wasn't a necessity, not if you were a girl.

My father was a little more realistic. He had no problem with me being interested in college. He just didn't understand why we should waste money on a Theatre degree. I understood his position, but it didn't stop me from wanting to go. I got the loans and financial aid I needed, and I paid for my college myself.

That particular degree and five bucks probably wouldn't buy me a cup of coffee at Starbucks, but having that degree has proven invaluable to me. It's put me ahead of people who were just as qualified when trying for jobs. It's given me networking opportunities. It's helped me move up from entry level to more advanced positions in various corporate jobs.

And my college years - as I look back on them now – were some of the happiest of my life. I made lifelong friendships, learned a lot of hard and invaluable life lessons, and moved on to relocate to another part of the country – something I probably wouldn't have done if I'd have stayed in town and gotten a job.

It's true that I want all that good stuff for my daughter, but it's also true that the landscape is changing out there. And while college certainly isn't for everyone based on their career path, my honors student/gifted in math daughter has her eyes on a STEM career, so college is pretty much a necessity.

I looked into my daughter's eyes – my daughter's shining, excited eyes – and I said:


"Really?" Those eyes widened in disbelief.

"Really," I affirmed. "Take a year off. Backpack. See the world. Teach English in Korea and play chess in Kiev and ride trains across Switzerland and get a job in a quaint little shop in London. Do it all and live every incredible moment of it. Do it before you get that car payment, or that mortgage, or get married and have kids."

"Awesome!" She beamed. "I just think I could learn so much!"

"You could," I agreed. "But that also means you're going to have to keep those grades up even more, since they'll be looking at year-old transcripts when you do go to college. Or maybe you'll choose to go to University in Europe – they'll want exceptional grades if you do. You might want to consider keeping a travel blog or working interesting jobs in various countries, so you can talk about your global experiences on college applications and to future employers."


"And you'll have to get a job when you turn 16, and probably start babysitting or maybe tutoring now. You're going to need money to bankroll that year."

She eyed me uncertainly at first, then with renewed determination. "Yeah. I guess I will."

"I'll agree to it, Anna, but you need to have a plan, you need do it safely, and you need to pay your way," I said. "And once that year is over, you need to have a plan from there. And it ought to include college, if you're still serious about the career path you're shooting for."

"Oh, I am," she assured.

"A lot can happen between now and then," I reminded her.

"I know, Mom. And maybe I'll go straight to college after all. Most of my friends will be doing that anyway."

And with that, she made herself a sandwich, and we talked about whether or not she should curl her hair or straighten it tomorrow, since she was wearing those new jeans and she wasn't sure which way to wear her hair with them.

Because she's thirteen, but she won't be forever.

Someday, she'll walk out that door, and the world will be hers to take. I'm going to let her do that, on her terms, with my guidance and her father's guidance and hopefully a good head on her shoulders that leads her to consider all the pros and cons as she goes.

I want her to want it all. I want her to have it all. And I have to let her define her all on her terms, not mine.


Jessa discovers that she can travel to other realities, and with the help of Finn, another traveler, they go on amazing journeys in all sorts of alternate worlds. What will Jessa find on the other side of the mirror? And can she escape from the evil that's hunting her?
Read my new book,"Traveler" FREE - and don't forget to vote!!

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