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My Teen Doesn't Want to Go to College: What Can I Do?

Having your teen declare they don't want to go to college can be difficult for parents who want the best for their kids. Here's how to handle it.

Suzanne Shaffer
Freelance Writer
College Coach
If your teen isn't thrilled about the prospect of college, save yourself some heartache, disappointment, and money by letting them make that decision. But don’t despair—college isn’t right for everyone. Often, we push teens to attend college even when we know it’s not for them. Why? Because as a society, we measure success by the number of degrees hanging on a wall or dollar signs in a bank account. Higher education is always a noble goal, but so is joining the military or being a plumber, carpenter, cosmetologist, or civil servant like a police officer or fireman.

Not having a college degree doesn’t necessarily mean a student will be stuck in a low-paying job for the rest of their life. They have options, like trades, that can provide a bright and lucrative future, and many who pursue these paths often outpace those who go to college. As their parent, you should communicate these options and guide them on the right path. Consider all the different options after high school: trade or technical school, entrepreneurship, the military, civil service, online training such as coding or graphic design, or even an artistic path like film, photography, or painting that outputs marketable content. If your child seems unmotivated or uninterested in college, have a serious discussion about their plans after high school. Make it clear they at least need a plan, then help them formulate that plan.

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Rhiannon Schade
Director of College Counseling
Collegewise of Millburn

This can be a difficult situation for parents who love their children and want the best for them. If you force your students to attend college when they don't want to go, they'll likely not get the most out of the experience. If this situation comes up, it's important to think about the reasons why it is happening to develop a course of action.

If your student simply feels that college is not the right place for them right now, it doesn't mean that they'll never go to college. More and more students are taking a gap year and/or delaying their college experience to pursue a work, travel, or alternative learning experience they feel is worthwhile—an opinion that many, many colleges share! (If your student wants to do this, I would advise them to apply and get admitted to college and then ask for a one-year deferral so that your student knows they have a spot waiting when they're done with the gap year.)

Of course, some students delay their college experience for different lengths of time or other reasons, and some choose not to go at all. The answer to this will look different for each student, but I would encourage parents to listen to their children, find out why there's an objection to going to college, and then work through how legitimate the reasoning is to find a resolution.

Charlotte M. Klaar, PhDCharlotte M. Klaar, PhD
Klaar College Consulting LLC
Tell your student they can take one year to work at something productive and begin to pay their bills, including rent, car insurance, dry cleaning, etc. At the end of that year, they can then decide to go to college, and you will help them. This usually does the trick. Often, once a student recognizes that home is not the same once all their friends have left for college, the reasons they chose to stay are gone.

Need more help with this difficult conversation? Check out our full article on How to Help Your Reluctant Student Start Planning for College.

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