Not Every Kid Goes to College

When your kid becomes a junior in high school, it starts. From well-meaning friends, relatives, co-workers and acquaintances. “Oh, he must be thinking about college!” “Where does he want to go?” “Are you looking at/visiting schools?”

It has happened to me. I politely answer giving fairly generic responses, in reality though, the answers are “No”, “I don’t know” and “no”, we are not.” In reality, I am working hard and stressing every day to try to get him to raise his GPA enough to even be considered by colleges.

The thing is, not every kid goes to college. Not every kid is cut out for college and not every kid wants to go to college. But, in today’s society, it is just expected. Frankly, I feel like a failure as a mother if he doesn’t, and that is something I need to get over. But, it is not easy.

I’ll admit it, I am jealous of other parents who are going on college visits, whose kids are excited about moving on to the next phase. Again, something I have to get over. You know why? Because my son is a great kid. He is full of life, smart, practical, funny as hell and someone I genuinely enjoy hanging out with everyday.

I don’t know what he will end up doing. Believe me, I worry about it enough everyday for the both of us. I lie awake at night wondering if I should have done something different in grade school, middle school, high school. He may very well go to college. He also has talked about being a firefighter or a medic. Recently, we had an emergency with his dog. The dog had put her paws through a window, and she was bleeding pretty bad. Of all of us, he was the best by far in that situation. He was fantastic – calm, cool and collected and knew exactly the right things to do.

So, how bad would it be if he didn’t go to college and became a firefighter and a medic or something else? Those are critical jobs that add value to society. The same society that is making assumptions about what he should be doing as a junior in high school.

I have learned a lot through this process, most notably that it is not really fair for us to expect 16-year-olds who aren’t set on college to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. If a kid doesn’t have his act together by the time he is 16, he is really at a disadvantage. And 16 is really young.

Bottom line is whatever happens, happens. I love him more than anything and know that he is a good person at his core and that is really what matters. So, next time you are talking to someone who has a junior in high school, ask, “What is he thinking about doing after high school?’ instead of “where is he thinking of going to college?” because not everyone automatically does.

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Amy McGahan

Amy McGahan is a senior vice president at Dix & Eaton, a Cleveland-based public relations firm. She lives in Rocky River with her two active teenage sons who keep her busy 24/7. Amy is passionate about her family, friends, career, sports, travel and community service

24 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Oh, Amy – where to begin??? I struggle with this daily, as well. My son is currently enrolled in college (because we pushed him), and quite frankly, if I had to do it over again, I would have pushed for a gap year. Not every kid is drawn to academics. But for some reason, it’s harder on for the parents to admit it. It’s a stigma – the parents who look at you with wide eyes or empathetic stares when you quietly say that your child isn’t sure about what he/she wants to do. I wish I could say that I was strong enough to not let it bother me, but I’m not. Keep loving him and supporting him and he will find his way. He will be a successful kid in life because he has had a wonderful mom as a role model. Hugs!!!

    • Thank you! I am sure it will all work out, but it is stressful along the way. Hopefully, this can help break down some of that stigma.

  • Amen! My brother in law is a fire lieutenant and EMT. He is an amazing dad and typically who I call before the doctor when one of my kids is sick or hurt. He’d love to talk to your son if he wants to learn more. Such an honorable profession and man.

  • Well said, Amy McGahan! As a middle aged college grad with lots of life and work experience, I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up! ? Your son is lucky to have someone like you looking out for him and letting him figure things out. I agree that there is so much pressure at such a young age to know where your life is going. Your son will find his niche. You are the farthest thing from a failure as a mom. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  • I totally can relate. My son is a month away from graduation and still has not decided where he wants to go. I stress about it everyday.

  • Great article Amy- As a HVAC contractors daughter- we have seen a sharp decline in skilled trades over the years. What most people don’t realize- is many of these techs have the potential to make 6 figures.. with great benefits and healthcare. And with trade programs like Polaris, they come out of High School with a skill set, and no debt.

  • Amy, love this article. I remember you telling me the story about the dog and talking firefighter, I think he would do great at that or anything he decides to do!

  • Great article… and by the way, we shouldn’t assume kids in college know what they want to do. Many spend big money, come out of college 50-100K in debt, with no idea what they want to do, and degrees that may not land them jobs. A child who waits, takes time to figure out what he/she wants to do may be better off and incur far less debt!! Go easy on yourself and your son.

    • Thank you, Amy. Student debt is certainly a huge problem in this country and should be taken into consideration when making the decision of whether to go to college and where.

  • I love your powerful message, Amy! Unconditional love, support, and being your sons biggest advocate is by far-the truest sense of freedom from worry, anxiety and fear! Well done!

  • My son recently graduated Rocky River High School. Leading up to graduation it was apparent he was not ready for college or having a desire. He talked about community college but I think he was just going through the motions. He struggled with his grades and we could see all the signs. My husband and I said he needed a trade or skill if he didn’t want to go to school. Well, he enlisted in the Marine Corp. He is now a Mortarman in Infantry and we couldn’t be more proud. He had written tests throughout training and excelled in all of them. He had to qualify each round to stay as a mortarman or he could have been bumped down. Here is a kid who could barely pass a test in high school getting close to 100 every time he tested. He had to apply math and science during this training – his worst subjects.
    Who knows what will come out of the Marine Corps! He will get free education if he decides to go to school after his service or he can turn the military into a career. Either way, he wasn’t ready for college and that is okay. We see him with passion and excitement and he loves being a Marine.
    Let’s not forget we are talking about kids.
    I certainly am not the same person I was when I was 18, 25, 30 and now at 39.
    We need to take pressure off of them and make them figure out what they want for the rest of their life.

    • Thanks for your comment and for sharing your son’s experience, Danielle. My kids go to Rocky River, too! Good luck!

  • Amy, what a great post! After the kids were born, we kept thinking things would get easier, but we’re learning that each stage is just a different kind of hard. I will work to be grateful for elementary school challenges! Miss you! Xoxo

  • Loved your post, Amy!! And your mom motto on worry less and love more! Can be applied to so many moms, not just those with older kids. Great perspective!

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