What to Do if Your Student Doesn’t Want to Go to College Yet

Photograph of a flower, representing a "late bloomer" teen who needs help with their college search. What happens if your children don't want to go to college?

Source: Flickr user [email protected].

Bamboo grows quickly, but its flowers can take quite some time to bloom, much like many teenagers.

Their bodies may grow bigger. Their feet have quickly grown through kid’s shoes and well into the adult sizes. But this does not mean their brains have matured for such adult tasks as being academically, socially, or emotionally ready for college.

Our current system often forces kids of a certain chronological age to begin the college search process. Often, it’s without regard to whether they are truly ready for this major life change. There is no shortage of teenagers who, for one reason or another, simply don’t want to go to college. After all, they’re barely old enough to obtain a driver’s permit.

These are what I call “late bloomers”. Teens, who, for one reason or another, do not have the internal drive to take charge of their college search process (at least not at the time when it’s most relevant to them).

For parents, it can be an incredibly frustrating experience: How can you best help them? What should you do–or not do–to push your teens who don’t want to go to college forward?

While some students are ready to start planning for higher education even earlier than 11th grade, many don’t want to go to college. They do not express the interest, hard work, or dedication necessary to warrant the kind of investment inherent in going to college.

I am not advocating that we, as parents, should simply sit back and let our sometimes-disorganized teens drive this bus; however, there’s only so far I think we should push if the engine fails to work on its own.

The key is to keep your student’s options open

Many of these students will one day wake up and realize that there is life after high school. Some planning will help make this time more successful, especially if and when they decide that some type of post-high school education is important. Here are some steps to take with late bloomers:

  1. Take the SAT/ACT
    Even if your teen is waffling about post-secondary education, they may well change their minds.  If they decide to go back to college even a year or two out of high school, they may still need to provide standardized test scores, and taking the tests as a junior, still entrenched in classroom learning, will be better than having to go back and take them after a break from questions about geometry, algebra, and analytical writing. If they never use the test scores, oh well. Your teen wasted a few hours and a few bucks, but it’s a risk worth taking.
  2. Apply somewhere
    Unless your child has repeatedly expressed an abject unwillingness to ever sit in a classroom again, they should apply somewhere. Perhaps a community college, a state school, or some other alternative that will potentially allow them to change their minds between the beginning of their senior year and May 1
    st (the date on which college deposits are generally due). This is an age of rapid change. The teen that starts their senior year in September may be a very different person from the teen who graduates in June. 
  3. Don’t complete your child’s college applications for them–ever!!!!!
    As a parent, it can be incredibly tempting to simply take charge of the process. But, don’t give in. You can plead, nag, reward, punish, cajole, or bribe even, but do NOT do the work for them. If your child cannot bring themselves to fill out a college application, should you really invest what might be thousands of dollars when they’re sending you a clear signal that they’re not ready?

Continue to support and remind your child that with education or training comes more potential for increased earnings. But, also remember that there is a significant percentage of the population that don’t want to go to college or doesn’t go to college right out of high school but who still go on to be very successful.

It may be terrifying to let your teen be in charge of their own future. But, remember that they will soon be adults. Your attempts to steer them in the right direction may be in their best interest. Ultimately, they will have to make their own choices in order for it to matter.

One thought on “What to Do if Your Student Doesn’t Want to Go to College Yet”

  1. Stephanie says:

    Hello! I have a question for you. I have a son who is a late bloomer, not academically, but physically. He is much smaller and younger than his peers. His grades so far are very good. He is a 9th grader and I don’t anticipate his growth to hit until later. It really impacts his ability to do sports or leadership positions (he thinks people don’t take him seriously and his confidence is very low). I have concern about a very bright kid, who WILL grow eventually, is sort of hurt on the activity side of things in the 9th and 10th grade when it seems to matter most. He loves baseball but may get cut. He plays in the school band and does pep band, plays piano and a few other things. But he is just not ready to run a group or anything like that. His school is soooo competitive and parents really vie for their kids to be in everything, student gov’t top of sports, philanthropies. We are letting our son pave his own way … and right now his confidence is low and he is still a bit young. This may impact his extracurriculars and I wonder how it will impact his college admissions choices. What should I do with my late on puberty 14 yr old? thank you!

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