Stop Asking Teenagers Where They Are Going To College

Stop Asking Teenagers Where They Are Going To College

August 8, 2021 Updated August 6, 2021

Graduation Day
Juanmonino/Getty

My son graduated high school in June, and for the past few years, he has been asked “Where are you going to college?” hundreds of times. It doesn’t matter if they know him well, or are the random stranger I struck up a conversation with one day while buying spoons and happen to mention I have three teens who take all my spoons — they want to know where the hell my kids are going to college, as if there are no other choices beyond signing up for more schooling.

If you ask me, it’s like asking a newly married couple when they are going to have kids, or asking someone who just lost their job what they are going to do for work — none of your damn business. And when you ask close-minded questions like this, you are presenting the idea that there is only one way to live life.

Not every child that’s recently graduated high school wants to think about college straight away. The pressure is immense and some of them need to take a breather.

There are so many other options out there after high school and we can all agree it’s good for our kids and future generations to have a plan in place. What would we think if people started asking the graduates of the world where they would be traveling, working, or what branch of the military they were going to join after high school?

Strange, right?

Which is why people don’t ask that. They ask about college instead, as if it’s a given that everyone will attend.

My son has no intention of going to college right now. He is still trying to figure out what he wants to do with his life before he commits to studying for it (or not) for four to eight years. If you ask me, that’s a pretty freaking smart move on his part.

He’s not going to rush or be pressured into going down a certain path that doesn’t feel natural to him.

One of his friends is joining the military, another is going to be an interior designer, one is studying to be an engineer, another is going to learn how to build ships through an apprenticeship, and one is going to stay at his current high school job in retail and climb that ladder.

They are all taking their own path, yet they’ve all been asked the same damn question over and over: where are you going to college?

Not, “What are you going to do after high school?” Not, “What do you think you want to do next?” And certainly not, “What is going to make you happy in this life?”

Sure, some kids are perfectly fine smiling and saying, “I’m not going to college because it would practically kill me,” and my son is one of those kids.

However, there are a lot of his peers who feel pressured to go to college because it’s what’s expected of them. 

There are also kids who won’t go to college because it’s not an option for them. Maybe they don’t have the support at home, and trying to come up with the money and do all it takes to get into school on their own (while keeping up with school and other activities) is too much for a teenager to take on alone. In fact, it’s overwhelming.

I know a 20-year-old who just went through this — he stayed home and worked for a year to save money and got into college on a track scholarship which he was unable to maintain after his grades slipped. Between working, his school work, and track, he couldn’t keep his GPA up, and there was no way he could afford to go back to college without his scholarship, so he headed back home to continue working.

And he told me everyone asked him when he was going back to school and where he would be going.

The pressure was a lot for him (which wasn’t good). However, he discovered he loved doing masonry work so much that he thought, Why don’t I just do this now while I figure things out and not take on any debt?

Lots of kids do want to go to college, and that’s a wonderful thing. There are also other amazing options out there to choose from. My son is in the trades and gets to work with his hands every day and makes more money than I did when I was in my late-20s with a four-year degree (that I’m still paying for).

When adults continually ask teens where they are going to college without even considering there are other options, it’s annoying and adds to the stress our teens already feel. Everyone needs to stop assuming that’s going to be their next step. While it may seem light and like we are just making conversation, we need to realize this is likely weighing on our teens’ minds, and it can be all-encompassing for some. 

Stop asking teenagers and recent graduates where they are going to college. Change your question. It’s not hard and it can make all the difference in our kids’ confidence … and their way of thinking about their future.