My parents raised me with the understanding that college was a necessity. To them, college was the gateway to a successful future: it was a question of when — not if — I would score a high-paying job in a lucrative industry. While their hearts were in the right place, and college ultimately was the right path for me, college isn’t for everyone, and there's no shame in it. If you’ve decided that going to college isn’t the right path for you, here’s how to tell your parents you don’t want to go to college.
1. Be upfront and honest with your parents.
A 2017 survey from the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that 33% of people in America have a bachelor's degree or higher — which is surprisingly low, especially when society makes it seem like everyone has a college degree these days! If you've decided college isn't the right path for you, you're not alone, and the sooner you tell your parents about your future plans, the better. Your parents will want to know — and will most likely ask, multiple times —about your plans, so it can be helpful to prepare what you're going to communicate in advance. While it can seem intimidating, telling your parents early on in the process will allow them space and time to get used to the idea; they may even help you narrow down your choices or offer helpful suggestions.
Wenny Williams, who graduated from high school in 2017, didn't feel like college was the right path for her, and ultimately chose not to attend. “I just didn’t want to sit at a desk for another four years,” Wenny tells Her Campus. “I wanted to be outside, and that’s what I told my parents.” Her dreams of spending all of her time outside came to fruition when she learned about a course in Scotland that would allow her to become certified to teach outdoor sports. Now, Wenny has spent the past several years traveling throughout Europe and currently resides in Utah, where she works as a ski instructor.
Wenny says her honesty is what ultimately helped her convince her parents to go along with the idea of an alternate path. “Be honest," she recommends to anyone who may be feeling similarly. "Be honest with yourself, and be honest with those around you. I’m so grateful I was honest because my mom was the one who told me about the course in Scotland!"
It's difficult to predict how your parents will respond if you tell them college isn't for you, but being honest and open with them about how you're feeling can help ease the transition — and make everyone feel more comfortable in the process.
2. Express your reasoning in a calm, clear way.
While there are dozens of reasons why college may not be the right path for you, one of the biggest reasons is the price tag. College can be expensive, and for you, it might not be necessary or beneficial to spend thousands of dollars on an educational program, especially if your professional goal doesn't require a specific degree. Perhaps you want to work in construction, be a firefighter, work in real estate, become an esthetician, or work in the service industry. While some of these professions require certificates or licenses, it is absolutely not necessary to attend college in order to land a job in these industries. If this is a strong reason why you don't want to attend college, try expressing this to your parents in a calm, clear manner.
While time, energy, and student loan debt can be major factors that deter young people from wanting to attend college, you don't necessarily need a clear reason — sometimes it's just not the right path for you. Perhaps academics aren’t your thing, or the idea of going to college doesn't interest you or feel exciting. If you struggled with your classes in high school, or you aren't sure about the career path you want to take yet, it's totally understandable that college would feel like an overwhelming (or unnecessary) next step.
If this sounds like you, know that there’s no shame in waiting until you are ready to attend college, should you choose to do so — not everyone begins college immediately after high school, and that’s okay! If you feel you need to take time off to decide what you want to do, know that this is common. Plus, you’ll most likely feel much better taking time off than if you pushed yourself to attend college just because you were expected to.
"You can learn so much outside of college," says Wenny, who is currently in her twenties and doesn't regret not attending college. "I'd love to go back to college and learn, but maybe later on. I'm in my twenties, my prime, and this is the only time I can ski all day! When I want to study, it'll be later. But for now, [I say] live your life, see the world, and do what you want to do."
3. Research a potential backup plan.
Even if your plan isn’t entirely set in stone, it’s important to have somewhat of an idea of what you’re going to do once you graduate high school. If you know exactly what you’re going to do, that’s great! Be sure to explain to your parents your desired career path and how you plan to make it a reality. It may also be useful to mention the financial aspect of your career: contrary to what some people believe, yes — you can still make money without a college degree!
If you have no idea what you want to do for a career, let your parents know that you plan to do some research and look into potential jobs. Perhaps you plan to hold a part-time or full-time job until you’re ready to pursue a certain field, or perhaps you’re looking into internships or apprenticeships that pique your interest. Pro tip: even if your plans are not very well thought-out, make sure you have something in mind to tell your parents so that they know you’re being proactive. Although your parents may be focused on wanting you to go to college, they may be more likely to support your non-college plans if they see that you are seriously considering other options. More than anything, your parents want you to succeed, so reminding them that success is possible without a college degree can be a great way to earn their support.
Erica Garon, a 2017 high school graduate, says she applied to college and attended before realizing it wasn't the right path for her. She shares with Her Campus, “All my friends were going away to college and I didn’t want to be the one that stayed home and ‘didn’t do anything with [her] life,’” she says. “So, I ended up going to the University of Rhode Island for a semester and I did well. But my family couldn’t really afford to just send me money and I [wasn't able to receive] student loans. I was like, ‘this just isn’t worth it for me.’”
Erica chose to leave school but was still able to carve out a path for herself — ultimately, one that she is proud of. “I ended up coming across a position doing administrative work for a company,” she says. “It was full-time and paid more than minimum wage. [After having my daughter], when I came back from maternity leave, I moved into full sales, so I make a decent salary and get a commission." And at 21 years old, she was able to buy her first home. Contrary to popular belief, just because you don't attend college doesn't mean you won't have a successful and enjoyable life path. Reminding your parents of this when speaking with them can be a helpful way to ease their minds.
4. Ask a friend who’s not attending college to speak with your parents.
As annoying as it can be, sometimes our parents are more apt to support us when they see other families’ children doing similar things. If you know someone who isn't planning to go to college, you may want to consider setting up a time for your parents to speak with your friend about their decision. Bonus points if you can get your friend’s parents to come along to the meeting as well — parents often listen to other parents, and it never hurts to have multiple people on your side. Be sure to approach a potential meeting between your parents and others with gentleness and maturity: you don’t want to overwhelm your parents or make them feel backed into a corner, as though you are pressuring them to change their minds. If you’re careful and broach the idea in a friendly manner, your parents will be far more likely to consider hearing how someone else plans to make the most of their life post-high school. And, if you can find an adult in your desired field without a college degree to speak to your parents? Even better.
5. Remember, you can always carve out your own path.
Respecting your parents’ wishes is important, but at the end of the day, it's up to you to decide what works best for you. It's likely that your parents want you to be successful and happy, and they may truly believe that college is the best path to help you reach that! While it may be difficult and challenging to go against your parents' wishes, know that there is always an opportunity for you to carve out your own path, with some considerable time and effort.
If your parents make uncomfortable comments about your decision to not pursue a college degree, don't be afraid to (respectfully) assert yourself. Remind your parents that choosing to follow a less traditional path doesn't make you less successful or capable than other people, even if it may seem that way at first. Success may not come right away — whether you attend college or not — and all you can do is try to make the best-informed decision for you.
“Overall, I’m satisfied with where my life is at," Erica shares with Her Campus. "I have a cute little home to go to after work, where I get to spend time with my family, and we’re happy. I’ve seen my friends graduate with their four-year degrees, and when I feel sort of behind, I remind myself that I have my own ‘adult life’ and [my friends] are still figuring things out that I have already gone through.”
Discussing future plans with your parents can be quite difficult when you know they’re not likely to be on the same page as you. While it is ultimately your decision to pursue something other than a college degree, it is entirely possible to gain your parents’ support if you approach the discussion in a mature, rational manner. Everyone’s definition of success is different, but, generally speaking, success will come through hard work, determination, and passion, not the number of degrees you have. If you've decided that college isn't for you, know that you aren't alone. From speaking to your parents to navigating your future path, good luck – I'll be rooting for you!