I Don't Want My Kids to Go to College

Wait a minute. Don’t I want my kids to be successful, happy, and thriving? Don’t I want them to have good things in this life? And don’t I want to make sure they don’t end up living in my basement in their 30s?

The answer is yes, of course I do. But I believe something else is far more important than worldly success.

I believe God has given me a mission as a parent to care first and foremost for my children’s souls. I want my children to build character and virtue, to live lives of purpose and mission, and to be motivated by love for Christ and his Church. I know if I only encourage them on a path to worldly success, they will end up empty. Fulfillment, happiness, and wholeness can come only through building a relationship with Christ and following his will for their lives.

“God has created me to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another. I have my mission.” - John Henry Cardinal Newman

As parents, the big deal is getting our kids through high school, right? We highly anticipate the day we can sit proudly and watch our children walk across that stage, switch the tassel, receive their high school diploma, and then go on to college.

But is that enough?

If God has given each of my children unique gifts and talents, and a specific mission for each of them, is simply getting them to college a worthy goal?

Why do we send our kids to college?

Really think about it. Is it motivated by a desire to help them discern God's will in their lives, or by one or more of these three fears?

  1. Fear of our child not getting a good job.

  2. Fear of our child falling behind socially.

  3. Fear of ourselves falling behind socially.

What do we hear at high school graduation? John will be attending (insert prestigious university) and studying (insert impressive degree).

Going to college is the thing to do isn’t it? The question of if our children will attend college is never really the question, but instead which one and which degree. So much time is spent figuring out which college campus “feels” right. And I find this rather tragic.

How much time will my children spend building their relationship with Christ and his Church during this time? Will they become men (and women if God blesses us with them) of character? Will they be humble? Will they be generous? Will they be self-sacrificing? Will they be loving? Will they be forgiving? Will they be merciful? Will they pursue the truth?

Will my children journey toward heaven or a full bank account? Will they try to become saints, or will they try to win Wall Street?

Not exactly résumé buzzwords are they?

But in the end, would you rather your child be relentless, or would you rather your child be generous? Would you rather your child be stingy and focused on self and money, or instead be focused on serving others? Would you rather have your child too busy to bother with Mass or any other spiritual activities, or would you rather have them prioritize God?

What happens when kids go to college?

This topic has been a huge interest of mine, so I decided to see what does happen in college.  And I found some interesting stats:

  • Majors are fluid. A report from the Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics found that nearly one-third of first-time college students change their major within three years, and one in 10 change it twice.

  • It doesn’t happen in four years. A Complete College America report found only 19% of college students actually earn their degree in four years.

  • College often incurs debt. Approximately 45 million people collectively owe more than $1.56 trillion in student loan debt.

  • Degrees often don’t pay off. According to New York Fed, 34% of college graduates ages 22-27 are underemployed, and approximately 44% have a job that does not even require a college degree. In fact, they found 1 in 3 degrees bring the workplace no added value.

What are some takeaways from this?

Many students go to college without a clear purpose or direction. This means they often change their majors. So they spend extra semesters and even years trying to figure it out and actually finish one major. They incur substantial debt in doing so, and then often get a job (if they can) that doesn’t even align with their major.

I changed my major after my first semester, and I have seen many family members and friends add years of extra schooling (and therefore debt) that could have been avoided.

What if we change the focus?

A pet peeve of mine is asking kids this question: What do you want to be when you grow up? I think it's the wrong question—or at least it's not the complete question.

Yes, God absolutely speaks to us through our desires and our talents. He is the one who gave them to us after all. And when they are rightly ordered, they can yield incredible service to God and the people around us. But what if we asked a slightly different question?

What does God want you to do with your life? Where is he calling you? What talents has God given you, and how does he want you to use them? What do you want, and how does it fit into God's plan for your life?

Just wait a year or two

(For those of you who caught my Sound of Music reference, thank you.)

What if instead of automatically signing up for the four-year degree, young adults signed up for a year of service?

I don’t know about your experience, but my senior year of high school was incredibly busy. I hardly had time to think about what college and my future looked like.

Before making a big decision about college and career, what would happen if our children really took the time to step outside of themselves, to pour their hearts out in service to other people, and to discern where God is calling them?

This could be something like NET Ministries, where young adults travel the country and give retreats to high school students. This could mean being a foreign missionary with a Catholic charitable organization. Or this could even mean working with a religious order.

Whatever it looks like, our children could take the time to really form a servant's heart, to grow in character and holiness, and to actively discern what God wants them to do with their lives.

What they discern to do next could take many forms:

  • Select a four-year degree. This is a viable option if our children pursue a degree with intentionality.

  • Pursue a trade or associate’s degree. There are many good jobs available that do not require a four-year degree.

  • Continue missionary work. It’s a noble task to serve the poor and and needy.

  • Enter a religious order/seminary. Imagine if God is calling your child here. A year of service might give him or her the time and space to listen.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. God has given each one of us unique talents and gifts. And we each have a unique mission in this life. Imagine a child filled with purpose and joy, pursuing the life God wants rather than the world.

It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.” Pope Saint John Paul II

Let’s ask them: What does God want you to do with your life?