When to go to college

A lot of people in the comments on this earlier post mentioned that they were forced to go to college against their will and then dropped out because they weren’t taking it very seriously.  Then they went back later to finish up.

Both of us were expected to go to college right out of high school.  We wanted to go to college right out of high school.  You know the South Park refrain, there’s a time and a place for everything, and that place is college.  Why wouldn’t you want to go?  All of our friends went to college right out of high school.

Other folks we know did their schooling mainly along class lines… the lower income worked right away while maybe taking the occasional community college course.  Some dropped out of high school and bounced from minimum wage job to minimum wage job or husband to husband.  Some middle class kids went to cosmetology school or nursing school instead of college or as a way to pay for higher education.  (I remember getting my hair cut at Walmart by a former acquaintance the summer I graduated… she was working her way through school and planning to move to California with her boyfriend once she was done.)

Some of the college goers dropped out after a year or two.  To our knowledge none of them have returned, but with those two years of school they’re gainfully employed making big bucks.  At least the guys are.

In real life, I don’t know anybody who was forced to go to college against their will (including our students).  But apparently their numbers are legion online.  I don’t know anybody who regretted going, even those who dropped out.  I do know a few folks who wish they’d been able to go but can’t now because they’re too busy with life.  And a few folks who went back after the kids were out of the house.  With my biological clock being what it was, I’m glad I went straight through… though maybe I should have gone ahead and skipped my senior year even if it was free.

What about you?  Did you go to college?  Did you go right out of high school?  Were you forced to go?  Did you get support from your parents?  What were your experiences like?

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25 Responses to “When to go to college”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    I went right out of high school. I worked part time in high school and knew that there is no way I could have a decent lifestyle on my waitress salary. Plus, the hours I worked were the opposite of most of the world (nights and weekends). It was pretty cut and dry for me.

    Several kids from my school worked at the local hospital and they ended up going straight to working full time there. I know at least 1 person who’s still there 20 years later.

    I think it’s very difficult to walk away from a good salary once you’re making decent money…and for a kid out of high school decent money is $20/hr. Yeah, that might be good money when you’re still living at home with no expenses or kids, but at some point, you’ll need more than that.

    My vote..go to school right after high school and major in something practical. And even if you don’t like practical majors, at least get yourself educated and make some good contacts.

  2. Everyday Tips Says:

    If you were forced to go to college and your parents paid for it and you are resentful, then too bad. I know that sounds harsh, but I would have done anything to have my education paid for. I went to one of the lowest ranked high schools in the state and was ill-prepared for college in terms of study habits and such. I worked myself to death to pay for it myself. My first semester was awful because I thought I could still put forth minimal effort and get a 4.0 because that is how it was in high school. So, I grew up fast.

    I do not get how you could be mad about going to college, unless you had a burning desire to do a mission trip or something first. To me, college should be thought of as 4 more years of high school. In other words, a requirement.

  3. The Biz of Life Says:

    I went right out of high school, paid my own way with summer jobs and any work I could pick up in between. For those who a clear idea what they want to do with their lives, I’d advise going straight to college. For those who don’t, getting some practical experience, especially with the military or a company that has a tuition reimbursement program, is not a bad option before going bad to school.

  4. Lindy Mint Says:

    I went straight out of high school. It might have been the small private school I went to, but there really wasn’t any other alternative in my mind.

    I’m glad I did it when I did, but I also wish I had a little more maturity at the time to be more aware of who I was and what I was into. It seems I wasn’t able to figure that part out until way after graduation. But that sort of thing doesn’t come when we want it to.

    As for results of my other high school classmates, those who went to a 4-year university all graduated, and those who stayed home and went to community college never finished.

  5. Bashir Says:

    Right out of high school. Really, there was no consideration of alternatives. Everyone in my school went away to college. I was quite happy to be moving away at the time, and had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    I went to college right out of high school, just like I wanted, with parental support. After the second year, I learned that my parents weren’t going to be able to afford to pay for any of my college beyond the first year, but they still filled out the FAFSA, so I only had to make up their contribution myself. More importantly, I had school and governmental support (quite powerful until about 1982 when it started sliding away to where it is today). I graduated with $7,500 in student loan debt in 1984 which translated into $200/month or, in those days, a typical car payment.

    I had no idea what I wanted to do for my career, but waiting until I did would have been a mistake since it took me about two decades, since college and grad school helped me figure it out, and since I loved college and I loved my grad school friends.

    Some of my friends at college were not only forced to go, but also forced to become either doctors or lawyers (or their choice between doctor or lawyer). My closest friend got freaked out in chemistry lab (dangerous!) and told her parents she wanted to switch from majoring in biology to majoring in psychology. They would not allow it, which shocked her. She ended up double majoring and becoming the psychiatrist kind of doctor. (I lost touch with her and don’t know what she’s doing these days or how happy she is.)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      A lot of my first generation friends had parents forcing them to be pre-med (pre-law if organic chemistry didn’t work out). The weirdest was my friend whose parents wouldn’t let her be a math major because she had to major in something useful like English(!) She got a computer science double major or minor against their wishes and is now working as a game designer for a major console company.

      • bogart Says:

        Sadly, I had a first generation friend in college who committed suicide. Though surely not the whole explanation, his parents’ insistence that he major in a (lucrative, practical) field that he didn’t like or do well in, I think contributed to his depression. Very, very sad stuff … I don’t “blame” his parents who were, I think, trying to make the best decisions they could based on what they knew and could foresee for their family as a whole (not that I think what they did was “OK,” but obviously they had no idea how the pressure he was under was affecting their son).

        I insisted I was going to go straight to work in a very impractical field but instead went to college (joint expense between me and my mom, but mostly her). Honestly that was partly just path-of-least-resistance (by far) but also, I’d tried the impractical field over the summers and basically worked out that it was a rough, rough life if pursued as a profession (rather than a hobby).

        I have a friend whose parents were both on the faculty in music. She finished high school and went to work in programming and has been there ever since (self-taught/apprenticed, basically) … every now and then one of her parents will comment that at least if the programming thing doesn’t work out, she’s got her musical training to fall back on (?!).

  7. Grace Says:

    Having graduated high school in 1967 from a solidly working-class family, I went straight into college–the first family member ever to go. My parents were fine with that though by the time I finished grad school, they wondered if I’d ever get through with school. The nice thing about being poor is that I mostly had a free ride the whole way. It’s surprising to me how different things are for my children and grandchildren. Not only is it way more expensive but none of my kids were smart enough (or hardworking enough) to get scholarships. All of them came to me as older adopted children with organic and emotional issues that made college problemmatical. I can’t help wishing there were more ‘mill/factory/lineworker’ jobs available because my kids would take them in a heartbeat.

  8. retirebyforty Says:

    I went straight out of high school. It was a good decision for me because I finished quickly and got a job right away and was able to start saving. I think I would have learn more if I go a few years later when I was more matured.

  9. Ann Marie Says:

    I did not know what I wanted to do for a cash flow; in fact, I purposely flunked out of a private high school (9th grade) because I wanted to be with my friends at a local public school. (My parents forced me to go to private high school and I rebelled.) And so I ended up at a high school where only 40% continue on to college. What was I thinking? I went to a business school for one year and then found work as an admin assistant. I did not like the work, but I liked the money and the ability to travel. Also, I bought a car and had a car loan so now I was stuck. I started taking evening classes at the local community college which went on for years. After completing associates degree, I transferred to a four-year college and earned a BA degree in communications with a minor in marketing–I was 41! What I can say about it all is that I love school and learning. Currently, I’m researching colleges for my daughter who’s in the 12th grade. I had no idea that college is such big business-it’s been an eye opener.

  10. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    These are all really interesting. Thank you everyone for sharing your experiences.

  11. Linda Says:

    I took a year off between high school and university. My parents separated in my last year of high school and it was something I really wanted to be away from. I moved hundreds of miles away and lived with my boyfriend for a year not doing very much besides taking care of the household. (Actually, I couldn’t work because I was from the U.S. and was in Canada, where I was not permitted to legally work.) Within just a few months of being out of school, I was really eager to get back at it.

    I researched universities in the area, applied, and was accepted at a decent uni, but had broken up with my boyfriend before the time the term was ready to start. I spent my first year in the dorms, which wasn’t too bad. By the end of that year, I had run out of the small amount of money I had for college, so I moved back to my home town again and applied at a local state university.

    Because my parents were separated and my mother was giving me the most support (letting me live with her if I wanted…which I really didn’t want to do for various reasons), I qualified for enough free aid to cover tuition, fees, and books. I lived with a new boyfriend for the three years it took me to finish my undergrad degree. I graduated with a small amount (around $8K) of student loans, but that was really not so bad.

    I’m glad I took that year off between high school and college. It helped me really sharpen my focus and set my resolve to pursue a degree. I never doubted that I wanted to be a student full-time and earn my degree in four years. I did work part-time to earn extra money, but my focus was always on my education.

  12. Money Reasons Says:

    I went straight from high school to college too. I was working since I was 16 and had some cushion money to fall back on.

    I understand why those from lower middle and working classes have a hard time justifying the costs! When you don’t have a role model growing up to establish a path, you start to believe that the path doesn’t exist unless your family is already rich…

    I know people that are smarter than me, that fell into that trap. I make more than they make, even though they are as smart, if not smart than I am. Or perhaps, I’m being too modest… :)

  13. Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom Says:

    I went right after high school and got kicked out after a semester. I was only 16, just too damn young to be on my own living in residence and able to pull off getting into the bar with my older friends. Anyway, it was something about having to show up for exams and hand in assignments or some nonsense like that. :-) I wasn’t “pushed” but it was expected and I didn’t think of any alternatives, especially since the economy where I grew up was in the toilet at the time.
    I went back 6 years later when my oldest son was 4 months old – I highly recommend going to school if you’re a single parent and have a good baby. Nothing to do and no money to do anything but study. If I wouldn’t have had him, I doubt I would have gone back.
    Even though I worked part-time for a couple of years with a full course load, I still graduated with $25k in student loans. I paid off about 2/3 of it and then my dad paid off the rest, surprisingly. My brother asked him for the money to pay his and I guess he felt bad giving it to him and not to me. I do regret not knowing anything about scholarships etc. I spent all that time on the dean’s list, at least I could have got something from it apart from a torturous sweatshop articling job. ;-)

  14. Molly On Money Says:

    After barely making it through high school I ran as fast as I could off to college. I had a mentor that could see that if I was exposed to stuff I was interested in I would take off- she was right and I’m so grateful for her support. Without it I would have never made it into college. The irony is my current career has nothing to do with my degree!

  15. Squirrelers Says:

    I went straight through to college. I did get parental help, and it was totally expected that I would go to college. Actually, they had pretty high expectations….I ended up going to a good school, but not the Ivy League that they would have loved. The thing is, that just wouldn’t have been affordable for me in any way, and certainly not them. The thing is, I ended up going to grad school, and even though I had some decent loans, that ended up being a good investment.

    All in all, I have to say that going straight through to a solid, yet affordable state school worked for me.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      If you’re in a good state, the state school does give just as good an education as an ivy league. Ivy leagues have the same kinds of problems with graduate students and adjuncts teaching classes in huge lecture halls as state schools do. (I’m totally a SLAC lover.)

  16. The Everyday Minimalist Says:

    No one I went to school with was forced to go to college but there was an expectation that we would do it if we were in the top 40% of the class.

    If you didn’t go, it was because you were traveling the world, but otherwise, we all went except for those who couldn’t get in, and went to community colleges.

  17. Janette Says:

    I went to a high school that assumed college- 95% of us went. The unfortunate part for me was the choices I was offered for majors was quite slim (nursing and teaching) because of the university I chose. I don’t regret being a teacher, but often wonder what would have happened if I had gone pre law. Women were not encouraged to do that in the ’70s.

    My children went to a public high school that only graduated 40% to college. My son went full blast- four years in physics. He is doing great.
    My daughter left two years of college with 30 units after blowing all of her college fund. She married a guy who did not go to college-but did the Marines. He is now working in the six figures in his field. She is at home with our grandson- but doing network work out of the house- making more than I did as a teacher. Amusingly, they are saving up for the day they can go to college- together:>) They have that funny idea that college is about knowledge- not a job!

  18. Donna Freedman Says:

    When I graduated from high school in 1976 I’d spent the last two years being the main homemaker for my dad and brother after my parents split up. I focused on the home to the exclusion of everything else, tried to pretend that the screaming set-tos weren’t happening, and didn’t think about the future. Another scarring-type thing happened during that time that I don’t care to reveal.
    Started college and — surprise! — partway through the first semester I had a nervous breakdown. After two weeks of hospitalization (all that insurance would cover) I somehow finished the year with mediocre grades. Had a baby the next year and set about supporting the two of us. The $2,000 student loan came due and I had to scrape that out of my permanent part-time salary, too. (Parents couldn’t help me except for a ride up to the campus and the occasional $5 bill from my dad. I did work-study, babysat and cleaned houses in addition to taking out the student loan.)
    In autumn 2005 I went back, starting at a community college and then earning a three-year scholarship to the University of Washington. It was hard for a number of reasons (dealing with long-distance divorce, helping disabled adult daughter, working several part-time gigs, commuting by bus, undergoing therapy for depression/adjustment disorder) but I have to say I got a LOT more out of it than I would have 30 years previously.
    Glad I did it, and gladder still that I don’t have any student loans to pay back.

  19. Karen Says:

    If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say “a college student.” I was kind of sad to graduate at 21, but came back 4 years later to go to grad school (which is, incidentally, not as fun as being a college student. Oh well.) Maybe if I become a professor I can be a college student for the rest of my life. :-)


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