msnbc.com
updated 3/3/2008 7:20:50 PM ET 2008-03-04T00:20:50

Is college really right for every kid? In response to an msnbc.com story about kids who decide to skip college, readers sent in their experiences of detours off the college path.

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One reader's son surprised his parents by telling them during his senior year of high school that he wanted to be a professional pilot badly enough to take out loans to pay for it himself. He's currently flying a jet out of Chicago.

"He has matured greatly during the last three years and I attribute this to the demands of the training, the responsibility and working with adults as opposed to hanging out at college with his peer group," writes his parent, who did not give a name. "He's very happy and I'm very proud. For other parents out there, college isn't the only answer."

But not everyone is so lucky. One reader who dropped out of community college has regretted her decision ever since.

"Looking back now at age 46, I could kick myself in the behind for not sticking with it. I, as a teenager, definitely did not know what was good for me or my future," writes Heidi. "There are so many roads that have been blocked because I did not pursue higher education during those early years."

Keep reading for more responses.

A college diploma is not carte blanche to a career. I know too many young people who have graduated from what I call 'grade 16' still not knowing what they're going to do. Then they have to return to community colleges or trade schools to get work skills. Students benefit from contextual learning from grammar school on. Let them develop skills in a setting that makes sense to them and equips them to enter the workforce prepared for something besides keggers.
srlewis, Longview, Wash.

Instead of focusing on researching careers, my high school pounded the idea of a four-year college degree into my brain. So, I rushed to pick a degree so I could get to school and get college over with. Since I couldn’t envision myself actually using my degree after college, I failed my first three semesters. Realizing that I wasn’t ready for (or just didn’t want) the “college dream” was one of the worst moments of my life. I felt very lost. Unlike my peers, I wasn’t content with earning a bachelor’s degree and working my way up from there, however, I didn’t really know what else I could do. I spent the next year working an entry-level job, saved up some money, and moved to a new city to try and start my life over. After another year of a dead-end job and a lot of soul searching, I’ve finally found a career that I can envision myself being happy with. I’m currently attending a career-focused community college earning an associate’s degree in medical coding. I don’t regret the experiences that I had during my disastrous first try at college, but it was a waste of time and money for everyone involved. I’m glad that I took a couple years to see and feel the real world. I think it would have been a lot worse for me to keep going to school and earn a degree that I didn’t really want!
— Hilary, Indianapolis, Ind.

I have four kids in various stages of the "college scene." My oldest, now age 25, started junior college when he was 17 and a senior in high school. He changed his major twice, took a year off and variously goofed off and also did exceptionally well at times. Today he is working full time in communications for a political organization. After almost 5 years he never even completed his 2-year degree. The second kid hated school and we could tell he was not going anywhere after high school. He worked full time for 2-3 years then enrolled in junior college and will graduate with 4 semesters on the dean's list in June. Child Number three graduated from high school late (our decision) and then went right to college. She is doing well and plans on transferring out of state next year. And finally, we have a high school junior that actually attends Fairport High School with the boy from this article. ... There is a risk that some kids will never go back to school. And although I am no advocate of follow the herd to college, experience at that level changes most people for the better: they become more articulate, polished, confident, etc. My husband and I each took time off after high school in the '70s before we completed our 4-year degrees. My husband hitch-hiked across the U.S. and back and I worked horrible jobs that showed me w/o a doubt not to take that path!
— Judie, Fairport, N.Y.

My son decided before his senior year that he had no intentions of attending college. I had no problem with that, but I did tell him that if he did not go to college he would have to get a job. He went to work offshore when he turned eighteen and has been working offshore for three years now. He is home two weeks out of the month, has his own home, pays his own bills and makes more per year than his dear mother. I don't believe that going to college is the final grade on whether or not your child will be successful in life. Every six months I do bring up college so that he knows should he want to attend, the opportunity is still there. I am just happy that he has found a job he enjoys, that he is a productive, VERY independent and has high working values.
— Margie, Hattiesburg, Miss.

I was a college student, I dropped out of the college I was attending a couple years back because of difficulties. Not only because of the money that was extremely challenging to pay for tuition and other fees. It was extremely difficult to be 'main stream' and 'follow the ways' like every one else. Sometimes college is just cheap babysitting. You learn some but never enough or you learn subjects you never use again. Some people are made to be students: successful. Some are not, it's a balance.
— Feather, Elmer City, Wash.

My oldest son actually took a year off after high school in 2000, then started a 4 year undergraduate program at UVA. Graduated in exactly 48 months and is now a proud US Navy SEAL. Hey kids Uncle Sam needs you, give a little of your self before you satisfy mommy and daddy's paranoia that your doomed to a life of burgers and fries.
— Tippy, Fredericksburg, Va.

I was just like the people in this story who attend college and later stumble around. After attending college for one year that quite frankly I'll probably never remember, I realized I wasn't ready for college. If I decide to go back in the future, good for me, but as for now I need to get out and do something more. I joined AmeriCorps. I've been volunteering around the country for the past few months and will be doing so until the end of July. I went from California to Mississippi to Oregon, and in another few weeks will be leaving again to help out with the post-Katrina relief effort. After July I'll be joining an AmeriCorps State program hopefully in Georgia. If I'm ready for college, hopefully after my year in Georgia, I'll attend UGA. If not, the Atlanta Braves are nearby, and that's not a coincidence. I networked my way through high school when it came to the Braves, just for this reason — in case college didn't work out I could still work with them. As for now, I'm content in Portland, Oregon for the next few weeks clearing invasive species.
— Katherina, Orlando, Fla.

College was practically expected of me when I graduated from high school in 1981; however, I wasn't [ready] for college! Instead, I joined the US Air Force, got married, and had two children. By the time my first and only enlistment was over, I was ready for college. I was 27 years old with a 5 year old and a 2 year old when I started classes. Each semester I made the honor roll, the Dean's List, and the President's List. I was listed in Who's Who for Academic Achievement. By the time I graduated, just 3 years after I started, I had the highest GPA in my class and received the President's Award for Academic Achievement. This never would have happened if I had gone to college straight out of high school. I paid my own way and owned my own education. In December 1992, I graduated with a BA in American History and in July 2001 I earned my Master of Arts degree in Computer Information Management Systems. I have one daughter who went to college right out of high school. She graduated with a BA in English in May 2006. My youngest daughter is skipping college for now and apprenticing to be a hair stylist. She's only 20 — college will be there when she's ready!
— Peggy, Derry, N.H.

I am 25 years old, and did not attend a formal college after high school. I am incredibly motivated, mature, and intelligent. I have a great job with a wonderful company making more than my two parents combined. I have many friends who have large college bills and very low paying jobs. My husband has a 4 year degree from a university and decided he wants to be a pipe fitter. He loves his job, but wishes that he didn't have a student loan to pay each month. We both agree that if your child knows exactly what they want, and they are mature enough to reach their goals via college... it's the best choice possible for them. If they don't know what they want to do, and they tend to party a little more than study, it's not going to help them. It's a great experience socially... but also very expensive. I don't regret my choices. My current company is paying for my continued education, and we are about to sign papers on our second house. I signed papers for my first on my 21st birthday. Not too shabby!
— Rebecca

One very important aspect about taking a "gap" year is what happens to the health insurance. Most employer based health insurance only covers until age 18, unless the dependent is a full time student. If a student takes a year off, then goes back to school, can the insurance be reinstated? In my situation, taking a year off would also impact my teens' travel to and from my duty station to the US and back.
— Todd, Kaiserslautern Military Community, Germany

The mistakes people make between the ages of 18-25 will affect the rest of their lives. Passing up a college education is one of them. These kids are just too young to look at the big picture.
— Colleen, Pittsburgh

I wish I hadn't gone straight to college after high school. It was so expected of me that I didn't even explore other options, such as technical school. I finally graduated after six years and six majors, but I can't get a job good enough to pay off my huge school loan debts. My friends who went to technical school have been making bank for four years now, and their debts are nothing compared to mine! Let your kid explore their options!!
— Kindl, Manhattan, Kan.

My son who will be graduating in June was college bound ... at least I thought. After months of preparing applications, taking tours of colleges, some in state and others states over and nights of no restless sleep about how as a single mom would handle the finances of college, my son came home 2 weeks ago to tell me that he has joined the US Marines! My little boy will ship out for bootcamp Sept. 2nd.
— Debbie, Harrison, N.J.

My son was very smart but in high school never really applied himself, just barely getting by. We had talked about college his whole life and I assumed this was 'his' goal. In his senior year, he told us he wanted to be a professional pilot and was willing to take out loans to pay for it. He did and spent three years getting his ratings and flight instructing. At 21 he was hired at a major regional airline and put through ground school. He's currently flying a regional jet out of Chicago. He has matured greatly during the last three years and I attribute this to the demands of the training, the responsibility and working with adults as opposed to hanging out at college with his peer group. He's very happy and I'm very proud. For other parents out there, college isn't he only answer.
— Anonymous

I went to college right out of high school and hated every minute of it. It was expected of me to go and I tried my best. Over 20 years later, I still don't have my degree but I've done just fine. I had a 15 year career in radio and radio education. I loved every minute of it. I'm currently on another career path that doesn't need a degree. Would I change anything? No. Have I missed out on jobs because I didn't have my piece of paper? Yes but other great opportunities were right around the corner. College wasn't for me. If a young adult doesn't want to go, don't make them. Traveling the world (if financially able) or joining the service, among many other things, are great alternatives.
— Melanie, Las Cruces, N.M.

My son had a full scholarship to any Florida college of his choice, but he chose not to attend college. Instead, he waited until his 18th birthday and enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he went on to volunteer for the 82nd Airborne. He was a 3.75 student at graduation, homecoming king, football captain, winner of the national Black Lion Award, etc. He was an exceptional student. How did I feel at his choice? Proud! He had talked about enlisting since the bombings in London. He made up his mind to try and make a difference, to defend those that couldn't defend themselves. It was always my contention that the U.S. is no longer a leader in manufacturing and technology. We are a service nation now, and my advice to him was, and still is, learn a trade, open your own business and be in charge of your own life. Working for someone else in today's world leaves you with nothing but insecurity. 4 years of college for what? To compete with all of the other people out there vying for the same job as you? I don't think so. A college student today won't recoup the time and money they have spent on college until they are in their 40's. It's simply not viable any more. Everyone will need the aid of a plumber, electrician, air conditioning expert, and to be an honest and fair one is better still.
— Richard, Margate, Fla.

I am FREAKING OUT. After his first semester in community college, my son is on academic probation and will probably lose his federal funding for failing grades. He's skipping classes, not turning in work...I was afraid this would happen. He's standardized test smart — but immature and lacks any initiative to take care of his business. I knew this at high school graduation. What would I do differently? Not pressured him to go straight to college. Give him time to work, mature, learn to pay his own bills and decide who and what he wants to be when he grows up. Maybe he'll make better choices when he finally decides to grow up. I am at a loss as to how to help him now....
— Anonymous

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