How can you help your kid succeed in college or university?

May 21 / Michelle Arseneault
Me: “Don’t make them go.”
Every parent: “I’m sorry. What?”
Me: “And don’t give them advice on what they should study.”
Every parent:
“You’re crazy!”
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I might be crazy. But hear me out.

My husband teaches at a craft and design college. The way the program works is the first year is a foundational program. The students learn design, drawing, art history and a tiny bit about the different specializations offered in the second- and third-year programs.

At the end of the first year, or foundational program, the students have to decide which specialization they want to go into and they have to apply for it. There’s heavy competition, so the students are asked to submit their first, second, and third choices.

The system is flawed, right out of the gate.
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The school system is flawed.

The students who get accepted into their first choice do great. They’re enthusiastic. They put in the work. They ask questions they actually want the answers to, and they get high grades. The students who have to settle for their second or third, and sometimes fourth choice, don’t do as well. And why should they? They’re trying to learn something they don’t really care to learn. It wasn’t their intention. They don’t plan to build a career out of what they’re taking, so they’re not invested.

What a waste of time and money.
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Kids feel pressure to choose a path that’s not right for them.

Kids dressed as a doctor
As parents (or grandparents, aunts, and uncles), we start pressuring kids about their future when they’re very young. We ask them what they want to be when they grow up. Sure, we don’t really expect them to hold to it, but how on earth can they be expected to know what they want to do 15 to 20 years down the road?

And the pressure continues once they hit high school. I remember going to academic and career counselling with our school’s guidance counselor in the 9th grade. We took an aptitude test to see what we’d be good at. This was supposed to help us decide what career path to follow. Like our dreams and desires held no place in the decision-making for our future. As I recall, I’d have made a kick-ass corrections officer. Yikes! I’d be miserable now (no offense to all you kick-ass corrections officers!).

I’ve been entrepreneurial ever since I can remember. I sold regal gifts and cards to family and neighbors from the age of 11. I sold financial products in my early 20s. I even did a brief stint with the Amway cult! I clearly loved working for myself, so why did I choose to major in Economics in university? Because I was told, over and over, that a degree in business was the smart choice. It would open “all the doors”.

So how did I do? I flunked out in my first year. Not only was I not able to wrap my brain around all those formulas, but I also couldn’t make myself care enough to try.

We expect our kids to go directly into post-secondary school directly after they graduate from high school. If I had a dollar for every kid who chose to get a Bachelor of Arts degree because they had no idea what they were actually interested in learning, I’d be sitting on my own island, drinking a spiced rum and coconut cocktail, and watching BTS videos on YouTube instead of writing this blog post.

I live in Canada. On average, it costs about $9,000 per year, just for tuition. Add books, fees and living expenses to that, and the investment for a typical bachelor’s degree runs most families about $80,000. What do the students get at the end of that $80,000 and four-year investment? A piece of paper they can use to apply for graduate school.
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Employers aren’t looking for people with degrees anymore.

In today’s world, employers are more concerned with whether a person can DO a job, and less concerned with any degrees they hold.
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"Outside of traditional “professionals” as doctors and engineers, companies recruiting new people are looking more for “skills and experience” than for degrees and certificates."
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"Fact: (in the US) 17 million college graduates have jobs that do not require a college degree."
Source: InsideHigherEd
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Let your kid choose their own path.

What if your kid chooses a different path?

What if, instead of investing a LOT of time, energy, stress, and money into learning something they aren’t interested in, you encourage them to take some time and try new things? What if they take a few online courses in different subjects to see if anything resonates with them? What if they try their hand at a few different jobs? 
Volunteers handing out food
What if they volunteer and learn some valuable skills while helping people and trying different roles?

What if they take some time to figure out who they are and what they are passionate about so when they do decide to continue their education, it will be in a program they choose because they want to learn it. How do you think they’ll do?
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