What to do When Your Teen Doesn't Want to go to College

Teen doesn't want to go to college
Stockbyte / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Hearing a teen say, “I don’t think I want to go to college,” stirs up sheer panic among many parents. They worry that their child won’t ever be able to have a successful career or that he’ll regret not going to college for the rest of his life. But the truth is, if your child doesn’t want to go to college, it’s not the end of the world.

Consider Why College is Important to You

If you shudder in fear at the thought of your child not going to college, spend some time thinking about why it’s so important to you.

For parents with college degrees, secondary education is often the expectation for their children. Hearing a child say he’s not planning to go to college can come as a bit of a shock.

In families where parents didn’t have a chance to go to college, they’re often confused by a child’s choice to skip out on such an opportunity. Sometimes it feels like a betrayal when parents have worked hard to set aside money and pave the way and their child doesn’t want to go college.

Before talking to your child, get a grip on the feelings that get stirred up when you consider your child not going to school. It’s important for you to recognize your emotions – and the reasons for them – before you sit down and discuss the issue with your child.

Listen to Your Teen’s Point of View

Don’t try to convince your teen to change his mind. Trying to persuade your teen to see things your way is a communication mistake that could discourage your teen from talking to you.

Show curiosity and be willing to listen to your teen’s point of view. Ask questions such as: 

  • How long have you been thinking about not going to college?
  • What has gone into this decision?
  • What do you think would happen if you went to college even though you don’t want to?
  • What are you thinking you’d like to do instead?

    Genuinely listening to your teen in a respectful manner can be very helpful. Validate your teen’s feelings and use reflective listening

    Once your teen feels heard, then you can begin to discuss some of your concerns. You may also be able to assist in problem-solving some of the issues your teen has raised. 

    For example, some teens don’t want to go to college because they’re afraid of leaving home and doing something new. If your teen’s decision to avoid college stems from anxiety, discuss some strategies that could be helpful. Going to a school that’s close to home or taking online classes could be an option that would increase your teen’s desire to further his education.

    Why You Shouldn’t Try to Force College

    According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only 46% of Americans complete college once they start. If you try to force your child to go to college against his will, he’s not likely to graduate. Unfortunately, many young people are racking up tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and they’re never getting a degree.

    Rather than try to convince him he has to get a four year degree, talk about alternatives to college. If he isn’t sure what he wants to do, talk about ways he can explore his options. Visiting a career center, meeting with his guidance counselor, talking to a military recruiter, or investigating a vocation school are just a few ways your teen can begin to develop an understanding of what types of opportunities are available.

    If your teen plans to continue living at home, talk about your expectations. Discuss the steps you’re going to take to assist him in being prepared for life beyond high school, such as charging him rent if he chooses not to go to college. Work together to ensure that he has clear goals and a plan in place, even if those plans don’t involve going to college full-time. 

    Continue Reading