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College Education

A College Education, the Key to a Happy Life or Not?

By Chris Jordan

My oldest son is going to be a junior in high school this year. Already people have started asking where he is going to college, what he wants to study, what he wants to do with his life. His answer is always the same, “I don’t know,” followed by a shrug. Then they look at me.  I shrug.

I recently looked up my old university online. Over $60,000 a year. A YEAR.

Here is the thing, I don’t think everyone needs to go to college. Many of us have been force fed the idea that college is the only means to move up and out of our socio-economic status. I don’t think any of my children have to go to college. It is their choice. I especially do not think that they need to go immediately after high school.

Moreover, the idea of them accruing huge amounts of debt to attend college makes me feel ill. I certainly do not have an extra $60,000 per year just lying around. Heck, I don’t even have a tenth of that. I have told my kids that if they work hard in high school and get the grades and SAT/ACT scores that they need to get scholarships at expensive private universities that I will help them in every way that I can, but I also feel VERY strongly about them not acquiring huge amounts of debt, especially at the undergraduate level when most kids don’t even really know what they want to pursue.  Having that kind of debt locks you into things and limits your choices.  But in the end at 18 years old, they are legally adults and can make their own decisions, the choice is not mine.  And as with most things in this parenting gig, I just hope they listen to what I have to say.

Some of my kids might not want to go to college, their interests and desires might take them on a different path. I am perfectly okay with that. I’d rather have a happy ditch digger for a son or daughter than a miserable lawyer. And honestly, the world needs plumbers and mechanics; why have we relegated those careers as inferior choices?

I think as a society we need to accept the fact that not everyone needs a college education. Having a college degree will not buy you a better life.  And also accept the fact that some college degrees have no real marketable value, they do not exchange for a job. I am looking at myself here and my B.S. in studio art, with a concentration in painting. Does that degree have any value in the real world? No. I can tell you it does not. Did I care when I was getting it? No, not really. I have two college degrees that are “worthless” when viewed in terms of job prospects.

Do I regret my degrees? Not at all. But I did not go into debt for them. I wasn’t forced to get a job to pay for my degrees.

People argue that college is not only about the education you are receiving, that there is value beyond the degree that is conferred. I agree. My issue comes in when people insist that it is the only way to have a happy and productive life.


I was with my son recently at his annual physical. The doctor asked him about his grades, extra-curricular activities and college plans. When I revealed he was the classic underachiever sort of student, the doctor gasped and said, “You don’t want to end up at the community college, do you?”

When I asked her what was wrong with that she said, “Well, it’s fine for some people, but our kids can do better.”

Since when is there a better and who decides this? I must have missed that memo.

I would much rather my children spend time at the local community college. I’d love for them to take classes that interest them. Take classes that seem fun. Explore new ideas. Honestly I could pay for them each to get 4 associates degrees for less money than it would be for one semester at a private four-year college. Much much less money.

I would love for my oldest son to attend a local community college for a year or so, work a part-time job and save money. Then take time off to travel the world with a friend or two. Strap a backpack on and head off into the unknown. Those are the kind of life experiences I want for him, and for all of my children. Those are the sort of adventures that teach you about who you are. They broaden your world view. When else will you be able to do this in your life?

Or, I could leave him home and strap on my own backpack– that sounds better than pulling my wheeled luggage behind me– and spend a year searching for myself. Forty-three isn’t too old to do that, is it?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Published August 22, 2011. Last updated June 29, 2018.
Chris Jordan
About the Author

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children. Yes, the...

Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.
Yes, they are all hers.
No she’s not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.
Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That’s why her youngest is almost 6.
Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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