Apodaca: Is college really for everyone?

October 13, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

Most parents in our community take it as a given that their kids must attend college, and statistics certainly bear out the view that a college degree pays off.

A Brookings Institution study released last year, for example, concluded that college is not only worth the cost and effort, "it's probably going to be the best investment a person makes in a lifetime."

The study found that college graduates greatly outperform others in terms of earnings, employment rates and job satisfaction.

Such findings underscore many parents' intuitive belief that college should be the ultimate destination for their kids. As a consequence, all efforts are unquestionably marshaled into the long, difficult march toward the finest institution of higher learning attainable.


That is why I took particular notice of a comment made to me recently by Jan Slater, a young-adult career coach and founder of the website

"College is not for everyone," she said.

Slater's statement is not so contrarian as it might seem. Indeed, her experience affords her a nuanced view not captured in data or college marketing materials. And her point is not to argue against the value of college.

Rather, Slater's intention is to foster a calm, common-sense approach for parents and children. Hers is a strategy aimed at circumventing the kind of frazzled, frenzied and often-misguided path to college so common these days.

"Parents sometimes think they get to define success," she said. "They have this preconceived notion of what success is," and cling too tightly to their own dreams of sending children to a college with a prestigious reputation or to the college that they attended.

While setting high standards for our children is important, Slater said it's equally vital to take into account each person's particular interests, aptitude, personality and maturity. Some kids just aren't ready for the prime time of a four-year college experience and might thrive by starting out on a different path, such as community college or job-specific training programs.

Slater is also intrigued by the European tradition of a "gap year" between high school and college, during which young people gain maturity through work, travel or volunteer opportunities.

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