What to Do if Your Child Says “No” to College or Doesn’t Know What to Study?

Empty Lecture HallFor many families and students, a college education historically has been a means to an end: a better-paying job or a more secure future. Nevertheless, college is an investment in time, effort and money that many would-be students aren’t sure they want to make or are able to make.

The New York Times has reported that some people are lured by stories of riches to be made in Silicon Valley, and that others simply don’t know what they want to study.

What can you do if your child says “no” to college or doesn’t know what to study?

Encourage your child to explore subjects and find passions.

Beginning at as young an age as possible, encourage your child to explore many different subjects and then cultivate passions. Encourage your child to read, take classes, volunteer, be creative, and try new things.

Consider a two-year community college.

Often, it can take a student the first two years of college to decide what subject in which to major, which is why the first two years of college tend to emphasize general studies. Given the cost of college, there is little need for your child to major in something that he or she may not want to pursue after college. Two-year community colleges can be a solution, and often cost much less than four-year colleges. After obtaining a degree from a two-year community college, your child may be better prepared to decide whether or not to continue for another two years at a four-year college.

Consider a technical high school or technical college.

Many in-demand jobs do not require a four-year college degree, including various technical, service, health care, and trade jobs that require specific training and licensing, and/or an associate degree or apprenticeship, but do not necessarily require spending four years in college.

Some communities have technical high schools that can enable a youngster to start learning a trade early on. Technical colleges, like community colleges, tend to cost far less than four-year colleges. Some technical colleges include general studies as part of their programs, thereby preparing students to start work immediately after two years, or to continue on to a four-year institution. Your child also may be able to get an internship or other on-the-job training, so that your child can earn a living while learning his or her trade. Business Insider has a list of 40 high-paying jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Let your child travel to other countries.

International travel is one of the best ways for a young person to develop perspective, practice language skills and widen his or her horizons, which is increasingly important in today’s global economy and job market. Travel doesn’t have to be expensive and can lead to an internship or a job in another country or back in the States. You may wish to encourage your child to explore travel-centric volunteering opportunities, such as those offered by the Peace Corps and the United Nations. Other opportunities are available domestically through The Corps Network.

Let your child enter the workforce.

If your child says “no” to college simply because he or she isn’t sure what to do next, consider encouraging your child to start working full-time. By seeing what is and is not available in the workplace for a high school graduate, your child may discover what he or she needs to do to find a career path, whether through college or into a skilled trade. Such a job may even land your child in a dream job.

Consider investing in child’s future, with or without college.

If you’ve saved for your child’s college education in a manner that allows you to tap your college fund for expenses unrelated to a college education, such as through the Gerber Life College Plan¹, consider tapping your college money to fund your child’s next step. For example, if your child has a business idea, you might decide to allow your child to use college-fund money as seed money for a start-up business or for moving to New York or California to pursue a career in the arts.

What matters is that your child finds his or her way into the future, no matter what the future brings. As parent of a child who is saying “no” to college, you can help your son or daughter find something to say “yes” to.


¹ Policy Form  ICC09-PIE; Policy Form Series PIE-09

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