Posted in College Admission, High School, working

HELP! My high school graduate doesn’t want to go to college.

If your teen graduated this month without a plan for college, and you’re probably feeling EXCEPTIONAL pressure, especially on Facebook. (you know, where “everyone’s” kids are all starting at fussy universities this fall).  I want to tell you something that’s really important but rarely talked about.

Getting into college isn’t nearly as hard as getting out.

The journey between high school graduation and college graduation.

That’s worth saying again:  Getting into college isn’t nearly as hard as getting out (with a degree).  Trust me, getting out is the better goal, but soon the buzz will die down, and you won’t hear about the struggles some teens are having, the financial challenges the parents are facing, or the worst possible scenario, their teen dropping out.

In other words, it’s intimidating when “everyone” around you starts college, but that’s only because there is a pervasive myth that tells parents “get your kid into college, and all is well in the world. Your job is done!”

Not so fast.  That’s bunk.

Simply, there is a huge journey between high school graduation and college graduation. It’s filled with pitfalls, redirection, and a lot of debt.   Unless your teen is very motivated, he likely wouldn’t have been successful today had you pushed him forward. That doesn’t mean he won’t be up for it next semester,  next year, in 3 years, or in 5.  But every college graduate will tell you that it was their internal motivation that drove them to complete their degree, not the internal motivation of their parents!  I realize all of this is very uncomfortable to talk about, but I hope you’ll explore with me how we can make your situation work out for the best.  (Did she just suggest I back off?  Maybe a little.)

Everyone is not a college graduate

The National Center for Education Statistics keeps track of all education data on all people (not a small sample of people, all people – this is the real deal!)  I like using data when I’m wrestling a problem because my emotional side and my logical side are sometimes at odds with each other!  Data helps me reel in some of my emotions, and look at a problem logically.   I’ve turned to the latest Educational Attainment Data (2017) and the latest College Enrollment of High School Graduates (2017) to discuss the challenge of “getting out” of college.  Why?  Because many parents may interpret their teen’s lack of motivation today as their own failure. (let’s face it, as homeschoolers, a lot of people are watching our kids and how they turn out – I get that, it’s a real pressure.)

Their data reflects young adults aged 25-29.  I want to walk you through a set of information that I hope you won’t skim past:

  • The percentage who graduated high school or GED:  92%
    • This is important to note because if your teen didn’t graduate high school, they would truly be in the minority of their peers.  In 2015, the graduation rate was only 88%, so as you can see, it’s trending up!  As a high school graduate, they are eligible to apply for college, apprenticeship, military, or begin work.  This accomplishment may not be your endgame, but it is still significant for their success as an adult moving forward.  Count this as a win.
  • The percentage who earned a bachelor’s degree:  35%
    • I bet you thought it was higher.  35% is up from last year!  Last year, it was only 28%.  So, roughly a third have earned a bachelor’s degree.  This is certainly not the majority by a long shot.  In fact, bachelor’s degree holders represent a minority in the United States.  (Master’s degree holders are in an elite club – only 9% of Americans have one!)
  • The percentage of high school students that graduated high school and went directly to college:  69.9%
    • Yep!  You read that right, 70% of high school graduates headed directly to college, but only 35% of those between the ages of 25 and 29 hold a bachelor’s degree.  Let’s build a diagram of how that looks using real students.

2017 educational attainment


Now, I know you still want your teen to land in the green “35 graduate college” box, but before we go there, I want to share a bit more data and then we’ll build a real plan.

False starts are expensive

Student loan borrowing data tells us that 94% of those that enter college borrowed money.  The general allowances and caps on government borrowing tell us that a student at year 2 in college has borrowed about $12,000. (I’m being super generalized at this point, and I’m not counting any money the parents borrowed).


So, while your teen hasn’t started college yet, at least they aren’t among the 33 that started, borrowed, and then dropped out.  That group will have a $125 per month payment for 10 years to repay their loan.  Those students are facing the same uncertainty as the group that didn’t start college – but the difference is that they are doing so with a debt burden on their shoulders.

From statistics and data, we know that student loan debt can be crushing, especially when the student expected to land a high paying job after college graduation, and instead finds themselves without their degree and a monthly debt to repay.

Tip #1  If your teen isn’t the driving force behind going away to college, stay home, pay cash, and don’t leave a paper trail.

Sometimes teens need a push.  Mine have too.  But remember, internal motivation is what drives a teen to complete their degree, so the ultimate win is getting them fired up about building their own plan.  If your teen isn’t the driving force, their potential for finishing a degree away from home is very low.  It is my recommendation that you should still push (a little) but do so in a way that doesn’t create a long-term debt or leave a trail.

A paper trail is a college transcript with 1-2 semesters of mediocre grades followed by a series of “W” and “F” grades.  That is the #1 most common way students leave college when they drop out.   You can avoid this by keeping their work off of a transcript (for now).

ADULT EDUCATION.  The best kind of college classes that are cheap and don’t leave a trail are called “Adult Education” or “Continuing Education” and found at your local community college.  While some of these courses can lead to a license, certification, or credential – that’s not really the point.  The point is for them to get into a classroom where they’ll learn something they’re interested in.  Adult Education courses aren’t graded, and they aren’t part of a financial aid program.  Failure in these courses is inconsequential, there are no grades and no debt.  You simply drop the class.  Future college applications that ask for “all transcripts and grades” does not include Adult Education.

As an example, my local community college offers EMT training as part if a degree program and through the Adult Education program.  Through the degree program, the student must apply, take a placement exam, take pre-EMT courses, earn credits, and earn grades.  A permanent record is created, and the student can use financial aid to pay for the courses.  Through our Adult Education program, a student simply enrolls directly in the EMT course, pays $180 and attends.  Whether the student passes or fails, no grade is recorded.  (no college credit is earned)

Lastly, Adult Education programs exist to meet the needs of adults – so you’ll see a robust blend of personal enrichment (cooking, Spanish, fitness) as well as career growth and development programs (Excel, PhotoShop, Real Estate, Cosmetology, Photography, etc.) that allow a life-work balance.  Adult Ed classes usually just meet one or two nights a week or on weekends, allowing plenty of time for full-time employment.

 Tip #2  Your teen should start full-time employment immediately, and do it at a company that offers tuition benefits.

Full-time work is not a punishment, it’s what adults do!  There is a LOT to be gained from immediate full-time employment.  For some teens, they just need a break from school, so working gives them an opportunity to mature, develop autonomy, and learn about being an adult.  In addition, when a teen works for a company with tuition benefits, they’re tapping into a resource that could pay for their entire degree.  Often an employer that pays tuition expects passing grades.  For the teen that is a good employee and tries hard at work, this outside pressure (from the “real world”) may be enough of an encouragement to work that much harder in school.

I’ve written 2 posts you’ll want to check out if this is the path you’re considering.  I’ve listed 100 employers that should make up your teen’s list of potential employers.

100 Employer / Employee Scholarships

Working During College: Yes or No?

Tip #3  Revisit Homeschooling for College Credit suggestions

You may not realize this, but the credit earning strategies we explore here are applicable to high school graduates too!   If you’ve been a member here for a while, it’s possible that your teen already has some college credit – maybe it was a dual enrollment course, a few CLEP exams, or a Straighterline class.  No matter what they did, if they have even 1 college credit, they’re not behind!  Here is the traditional credit progress schedule:

High School:  0 college credits

Freshman in college:  completes 0-30 college credits (10 classes)

Sophomore in college: completes 31-60 college credits (10 classes)

Junior in college: completes 61-90 college credits (10 classes)

Senior in college:  completes 91-120 college credits (10 classes)

 For those students who aren’t on the competitive admissions track to a prestigious college, or who aren’t pursuing a hands-on trade, it’s easy enough for your student to work full time (see tip #2) and earn credit at home using one of the vendors talked about here.  Read through the tabs above, but I’ll give my personal recommendation for Straighterline BECAUSE they have partnership agreements with colleges that are guaranteed to accept credit, you don’t have to disclose passes/failures, they can be done 100% at home, you can do all general education courses (AA degree) through them, and they frequently have coupons.  (see tip #1).  Furthermore, working on one class at a time, a full time working teen can still complete 1-2 classes per month.  At that rate, your teen is not merely doing, but they are beating the traditional pace of college.

Credit earned non-traditionally through Straighterline, Sophia, CLEP, DSST, ALEKS,, and others are all valid for 20 years.

College credit earned this way does NOT leave a paper trail.  This kind of credit consists of pass/fail scores.  Failed exams/classes don’t appear on an ACE transcript. 

Tip #4  Make an action plan

Now I’m the one that’s uncomfortable because this tip can cross a little into the “parenting” category, and I’m NOT in the business of telling people how to parent!  Still, making an action plan is a good way to set financial expectations and live at home boundaries for your teen as they navigate into adulthood.  Our second son just graduated high school and is earning his degree as a distance learner, so even though he’s “in college” we still have a very clear action plan for him that covers the next 2 years. Since we expect our children to eventually move out, our action plan always has that in mind.

Action plans include specific tasks either agreed upon by the family or dictated by the parent.  Action plans should have clear and reasonable schedules and goals for everyone. Examples may look something like this:

You have _______ months of working full time before you have to either enroll full time at college, enlist in the military, join the Peace Corps, leave on a mission, start the apprenticeship program, or move into your own apartment.  

While you’re working full time and still living at home, our financial expectation of you is __________________.

We will pay for classes at ____________ as long as you _____________. 

In _____ months, we’ll revisit your goals and decide what to do at that point. 



10 thoughts on “HELP! My high school graduate doesn’t want to go to college.

  1. Just finished your book! Yay. Easy read, yet full of info. Thank you!

    I’ve started collecting free or almost free college textbooks to use for reference and studying. So far we have about 15 covering American history, government, psychology, economics and Human Anatomy.

    A couple of question if you have time. 1. Have you looked into I signed my son up for this program and I think we will utilize it for Analyzing and Interpreting literature. Just curious what you thought of this program. Like, ‘what’s the catch?’ It’s free and taught by professors, and they will give you a voucher for the CLEP test. Hmmm, sounds too good to be true.

    2. Have you heard of ? Any info on them?

    Thank you!

    Sent from my iPhone



    1. Hi Cassie! So glad you enjoyed HS4CC. I’m happy to help if I can. (1) Modern States is brand new – it is similar to edX, Khan Academy, and Saylor – they are a free non-profit provider of education. It is part of a huge movement called Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) While I am not certain, I’m pretty sure that the reason Modern States is offering a voucher is because they are testing the alignment of their CLEP prep courses. In other words, I don’t think they will *always* do that, I think they are doing that now as kind of a beta test. There is no catch, except that you are not an enrolled student, so there is no direct college credit issued by them, rather you use their material to learn and then pursue credit via CLEP (or DSST, or AP, or any other exam you like). (2) Southern New Hampshire is super-CLEP friendly and I believe they are also a Straighterline partner school! Regionally accredited too – great find!


  2. When you mention, “You can do all general education courses (AA degree) through them [Straigherline],” are you suggesting an AA degree through one of the Big 3 schools or through one of the SL partner schools, like Olivet? I’d love for my kids to finish high school with a regionally accredited AA degree that would transfer as a completed chunk. Is it possible &/or advisable to test out of an AA degree in order to attend just 2 years at a B&M school? A daughter starts 9th grade this fall so I’m trying to figure out our game plan. Thanks for all your great info. I really appreciate all you have offered to those of us getting our feet wet with plans for college credit.


    1. Hi Karyn! Straighterline’s courses would all come in as 100/200 level credit. That is the type of credit that makes up an associate’s degree. (300/400 level credit would be the college junior/senior type). In order to get Straighterline credit to transfer into a program, they need to accept ACE credit or be a partner school with Straighterline. Straighterline’s partner school list is on their website, but I have an ACE list here you can use as a starting point. An AA (or AS, or AAS, or AOS) degree will have a specific distribution of requirements – for instance, at College A you might need 6 credits of social sciences, but College B you might need only 3, while College C might require 12. So, to merge those two points together, to use SL courses for an AA, you’ll first confirm that the school will accept the credit, and then you’ll match up the SL courses to that college’s degree requirements. Keep in mind that between now and your daughter’s high school graduation, colleges can and do alter degree requirements, SL may add or take away classes, etc. So, planning can make you crazy lol, but, if you have her take classes that work themselves into your high school program that you’d be doing ANYWAY, it won’t be as big of a problem if you don’t get 100% credit transfer later. For instance, if she is already going to do US History, then you could use a college credit option through SL (or others – and with a coupon of course) and she’d accomplish the goal of high school credit with you, and she’d have credit “in the bank” to use as she gets closer to enrollment/high school graduation. *My oldest son didn’t get to use 27 credits when he graduated high school, and I was upset, however, this year he transferred to a different college and guess what? He’ll get to use them after all! So, it’s hard to plan a tight perfect game plan- just do the best you can. And thank you for following!


  3. Thanks, Jennifer! You are always so helpful! I’ve read that some like to get an AA at a Big 3 school to ensure transferability, but that it’s not as cost effective as just staying on for a Bachelor’s at a Big 3 for a BA/BS due to residency &/or graduation fees (would those fees be charged twice if you get an AA and then stay on at the same Big 3 for a BS/BA?). At this point I don’t know what colleges we’ll go to, but with six kids I’d like to at least save money on gen eds if not more. Have you found AA degrees to be helpful along the way to a BA/BS or do you even bother with them? My husband and I did the traditional 4-yr. residency plan at universities eons ago and never considered an AA in the middle, but I can see how it could be helpful for transferring or if there is any interruption in schooling. Have you ever done a post addressing the pros and cons of securing an AA degree along the way to a Bachelor’s degree? I’d love to hear your take on it : ). Thanks again for all you do, Jennifer! There are a lot of us indebted to you for paving the way and making our crooked paths straighter.


    1. RE: Cost effectiveness – if a bachelor’s degree is desired, then an AA from one of the Big 3 will not be cost effective, you are correct. What *would* be cost effective is to complete the general education requirements of the BA and just go directly into the BA. (or BS or whatever). Why? Because of a couple things- mainly the big 3 are making it harder to get a degree without shelling out serious cash – TESU, for example, requires a residency fee of about two-grand and a graduation fee too. If you planned to eventually take courses with TESU, then paying the fee is premature, since it would be waived when you took the courses. I completed both an AA and BA from TESU, and I did have to pay graduation fees twice. RE: AA degrees – totally optional. There are valid reasons people pursue them (I have 2 lol) but it’s personal preference. There are some career fields for which an associate degree is standard, in other cases, the parents want to make sure their teen has “at least” an AA before leaving the nest (especially if finishing a 4 year degree is iffy) and it can be something to put on a resume while the 4-year degree is in progress. I will share what we did personally, and why. With my just-graduated son, he had more than 60 credits and by summer’s end will be in the 70’s, however, I paid no attention to earning an AA with him- I mapped his BA and we did what we could with what we had. His field will require he take classes in his major, and there isn’t really a way around that, so we just focused on doing everything else we could. He completed all his (their) gen eds, all his electives, and most of his technical electives. All in was under $2000, and he’ll enroll as a junior – but, had I separately had to meet the AA requirements, it might have messed up our BA plans. Oh, one last comment- I’ve answered as if your teens are headed to the big 3, so forgive me on that! My sons haven’t, and I don’t expect most of the members here do -but they are very popular because they do allow SO MUCH alternative credit. In states with AA to BA articulation agreements in place, the credit does transfer as a big bulk transfer- and in those cases, the advantage of earning the AA first, is that the contents of the AA are not scrutinized! So, maybe you have extra CLEP in there (more than the university will take) in the case of an articulation agreement, it all rolls in one swoop. The big 3 do not have programs like that in place, ALL credit is “un-grouped” and evaluated individually.


  4. P.S.
    To further clarify, I know community colleges are a good AA option, but ours is not close or easily accessible to our nondriving teens…I was wondering more about homeschooling options for an AA through nontraditional means (by exam or through ACE credit)… Perhaps CCs can fit into that picture, but I believe ours accepts a max and of 30 CLEP credits.


    1. Karyn, I know you’re feeling like there is SO MUCH to know, but I have been doing this a long time, and I promise you – you are asking ALL THE RIGHT QUESTIONS. You’re going to get this sorted out, because you’re absolutely on the right track. 30 CLEP at your CC could be a good deal if you have a guaranteed transfer into a school that doesn’t take 30 CLEP -and- you can get your kids through the other 30 credits for cheap and as a distance learner. Believe me, GETTING TO campus is a huge deal – I am right there with you!! So, most CCs offer online options for most/all of the AA classes, though your options may be from a smaller pool of eligible classes. In my opinion, the better question is whether or not your teens are firmly rooted in earning the BA degree, and if so, under what kind of parameters? Is it something you want them to do on campus, online, are they allowed to borrow or are you going to figure out how to cash flow it – is 4 years ok, or do you want them to do it in 2? These are all important, and something you and your husband can talk about. In our home, the one who pays gets to make the decision 😉 so, I’be for sure guided my sons into the college that I know will work well for us and them. Of course, they chose their career/major, but choosing a college is where the bigger decisions and questions about time and cost all come into play.


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