My son might not go to college. And I'm fine with that.

What does he want to do? Where is he going to college? Has he already applied for scholarships?

How many times has he taken the ACT? What is his five-to-ten year plan?

All are typical and expected questions. You see, my son just turned eighteen and is finishing up his senior year. I know it’s cliché, but it does seem just like yesterday that we were sitting together on the couch going through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. That year flew by, then one after another. What happened next? We lived life. We blinked. We turned around. Now we are pouring through old pictures, picking out the best ones to show at his upcoming graduation ceremony.

Early on, my husband and I decided that our goals in home education would be twofold. First, we wanted to help develop in our children a love for the Lord. Second, we wanted to help develop in them a love for learning. We knew that if we focused on those two objectives, our children would have every tool necessary to be successful in life. A love for the Lord leads to a love for His Word. This leads to the practical living that by our standards characterizes success—a diligent work ethic, biblical morals, responsible stewardship, a positive attitude, and other similar qualities. Developing a love for learning gives our children the necessary discipline to advance in any chosen career.

We recognize that these broad expectations could lead our children down various paths, even some that (gasp!) might not include college. Yet, even though we are constantly bombarded with the notion that a college degree is a prerequisite for success, we are at peace should our children decide that college is not for them. Let me list a few reasons why.

College Is Not For Everyone

There. I said it. We need to quit listening to those who insinuate that college must be the next step for every high school graduate. It is past time to jump off this particular bandwagon. We all know that a college degree can be highly beneficial for some and is necessary for certain careers. But the college-is-for-all assumption needs to be laid to rest.

Here’s why. A piece of paper does not define a person. While a degree can express certain qualities, it does not and cannot characterize the value of a person or his or her workmanship. Besides, we live in the land of opportunity, and the list of good options for young people graduating high school continues to grow. Technical schools, apprenticeships, and military service come to mind. Certifications are a good way to get credentials. Starting your own business and working for yourself is another effective way to make a living. My husband and I have tried to instill in our children an entrepreneurial spirit, encouraging them to look for opportunities to start their own business. But even this is not for everyone.

We are not all the same. Expecting everyone to fit into the same mold can dissuade our children from seeking their own paths. When they think about the future, I want to encourage my children to prayerfully consider what their interests are and to take into account what motivates them. They need to think about what type of work they see themselves doing. Do they want to sit behind a desk all day? Do they want to build things and work outside? Do they want to stay home and raise children? Do they want to work with people? Do they want to work for themselves? As one father expressed it to his son, “Do you want to shower before or after you go to work?”

These are all things worth considering when planning for the future. God gifts each of us with certain talents, abilities, and strengths. Using them for His glory might involve getting a college degree, but we also need to recognize that it just might not.

College Is Not For Every Season

After my husband received his GED, he went down to the local four-year university and enrolled in his first semester of college. After all, the assumption was that this was what you did next. His grandfather paid for his first semester and books. A few thousand dollars and the realization that this was not for him later, my husband decided to not reenroll the following semester.

Fast-forward a few years. We were married with two children. Again, the thought of getting a higher education came to mind. I was running an embroidery business out of my home, and my husband was working both a full-time and a part-time job. Needless to say, life was busy, but he decided to take a few night courses at the same university. Again, that lasted only one semester. The timing was not right.

It was not until a few years later that God called my husband into ministry, and he once again had a desire to get an education. This time he was thirty years old and had three young children. With the Lord’s leading, we sold our home and moved three hours away so he could attend Bible college. My husband spent the next seven years getting his bachelor’s and then master’s degree. Looking back, I wonder how he did it all—providing for his family while attending Bible college and then seminary was hard work. But he accomplished it because it was the right season and he knew God had called him to it.

Every story is different. It might be that college is not the right choice, or it might be that college is not the right choice for now. If a young person is unsure, I advise him or her to wait. Be patient. In the meantime, stay busy, look for opportunities, and let the Lord lead.

College Might Do More Harm Than Good

As with any major life decision, moving down a path not meant for you can lead to more harm than good. There are practical, financial, and spiritual reasons to heavily weigh this decision.

Practically, college could become a waste of time. One of the reasons I love home education is because it allows us to cut through unnecessary processes. When children’s education is customized, standardization is thrown out the window. We do not have to give them seat work in an attempt to keep them busy. We can move on to fifth-grade math even if they are in third grade. We can allow them to practice music all day if we choose. We can tailor their education to complement their strengths and assist their weaknesses. In the same way, certain fields of work can complement a young person’s self-education, taking away the need to spend four years at a university. Four years is a long time to waste just because it is expected.

Another reason college might do more harm than good is the financial burden it puts on students. Currently, more than forty million Americans hold student debt.1 Every year, student debt is rising. In 2013, seven in ten graduating seniors at public and private nonprofit colleges had student loans.2 On average, these borrowers owed $28,400 in federal and private loans combined.3 It is acceptable to question whether college is a good investment. Of course, it’s possible to do college without debt, and that would certainly mitigate some of the concern here; but even in that case, it’s a huge investment—one which shouldn’t be made without prayer, counsel, and careful consideration of the options.

Finally, we must address the spiritual reasons that college might do more harm than good. This factor is the most daunting of all. Consider the warning the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Colosse:

As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (Colossians 2:6–8)

As Christians, we have poured into our children the ways of our Lord, establishing them and building up their faith. I have always claimed that education is not amoral. It will either draw a child to God or away from Him. That principle does not change after high school graduation. Some young people can attend universities and their faith will never wane. Some will attend only to be carried away with every wind of doctrine. These are all things to consider.

College Does Not Define Success

It has already been stated that a degree can express certain qualities in a person. For example, it does show a level of commitment and diligence. But a degree does not reveal the value of a person or give us a complete portrayal of his or her workmanship. A degree can prepare a person for a particular skill set, but a degree does not prepare a person for life. Life prepares a person for life. While there are plenty of workers with proper credentials, ask any business owner or employer what is lacking when they look for potential employees, and you will hear “integrity.” No matter the field, employers are looking for people with strong character. They want workers who exhibit meekness, humility, loyalty, strong ownership of tasks assigned, and a willingness to admit it when they mess up. In other words, they are looking for people with integrity. Integrity is a soundness of moral character that does not come from a diploma.

On the Other Hand

While it may be true that employers are looking for integrity, this doesn’t make the question of credential vs character an either/or proposition. Character is indispensable in any role, and sometimes a credential is as well. That’s why we can’t rule out higher education as the right choice for some young people, however much character they may possess. This is where prayerfully and thoughtfully examining life direction, career choices, and the possible avenues for career and life preparation come in.

Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to attend college is an individual choice that a young person should make after prayer, counsel from parents, and consideration of the possibilities. There don’t need to be any defaults, and we should be careful about advocating a one-size-fits-all approach—whether for or against higher education.

My husband and I are assuring our children that it is acceptable if they choose a different path than college. As I think about my son and consider his brother and sister, who are coming up quickly behind him, I rest in knowing that it is God who directs their paths. The goals we set many years ago of instilling in them a love for the Lord and a love for learning still apply. So when they come to us for advice, we will counsel them with the same words Paul gave the Colossians: “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts . . . Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing . . . And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:15-17). 

Kimberly Williams is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mother, author, and most importantly, disciple of Jesus Christ. Her heart is for the Christian family and encouraging the discipleship of the next generation. She writes about this in her newest book, Home Discipleship: Much More than ABC’s and 123’s. She would love to hear from you at www.homediscipleship.net or on her blog at www.untilthedaydawn.wordpress.com.

1http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kyle-mccarthy/10-fun-facts-about-student-loan-debt_b_4639044.html

2 http://projectonstudentdebt.org/

3 Ibid.

This article was published in the July/August 2015 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine.

Kimberly Williams is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mother, author, and most importantly, disciple of Jesus Christ. Her heart is for the Christian family and encouraging the discipleship of the next generation. She writes about this in her newest book, Home Discipleship: Much More than ABC’s and 123’s. She would love to hear from you at www.homediscipleship.net or on her blog at www.untilthedaydawn.wordpress.com.