Today, it’s almost a given. You need some kind of higher education to even be considered for many jobs. But are we setting an artificially high bar? And does every job necessitate a four-year degree or higher?

This is NOT an easy topic to breech, especially with parents. Many parents expect their children to attend a four-year college or university, get a degree, and—BOOM!—land a job. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy anymore. With so many young adults acquiring four-year degrees (33.5% in 2013, as compared to 24.7% in 1995, according to the New York Times), the competition is fierce. And what then? What happens when the dream job doesn’t come along right away? Because of the steep cost of college tuition, many new graduates are faced with crippling debt that they won’t be able to shake for years, often decades.

Is it worth it?

Maybe, for some, but it’s certainly not worth it for everyone.

Parents, it’s up to you to have a frank, realistic conversation with your child. What are their aspirations? Are they undecided about what, exactly, they want to do with a college degree? Would they, perhaps, be better suited for a technical or community college?

Of course, some kids are a great fit for a four-year school. These are the kids who are certain of their path and won’t squander their time (and money!) trying out different majors; these are the kids who are interested in a career path that requires a four-year or advanced degree; these are also the kids who are comfortable with taking on all the responsibilities a four-year school requires.

That, of course, does NOT describe every kid!

There are many valid alternatives to a four-year school if your child does not fit the mold:

For the student who loves working with their hands…

encourage a technical or trade school.

For the student who isn’t quite sure what they want to do…

suggest that they take a few years off and focus on building experience in potential areas of interest. For example, if the student is thinking about graphic design, encourage him or her to take community arts classes or find an internship in a graphic design or advertising studio.

For the student who is interested in work that does not require a degree…

experience is key! Look for opportunities to build their skills.

For the entrepreneurial student…

Suggest that they take a few business courses to advance their basic knowledge of business best practices. Courses can be found at a local community college or online.


It’s time to start getting realistic about our expectations for our young students. Attending a four-year college should be a decision, not a requirement.

In my next blog post, I’ll discuss how to avoid debt if your child decides to pursue an advanced degree. Stay tuned and subscribe below if you haven’t already.

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24 thoughts on “A tough conversation: Is a four-year college appropriate for everyone?

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