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Is Skipping College Worth It?



Question: Our son graduates from high school in June and has been accepted to our local community college, a state university, and two out-of-state universities. But he’s totally bored with the whole idea of college.

I don’t want to take out loans for him to go to college if he’s not going to work hard — and graduate and get a high-paying job that’ll make it all worth it. So I want him to take a year off and work with me at my shop, where he can learn what he wants. My wife is furious. She thinks we need to ship him off to school so he can grow up. 

When he was born, we set some money aside for our son’s college, and we’ve paid off everything but our mortgage. Then again, we got almost nothing saved for our retirement. So who’s right, Howard?

— Leslie in Michigan

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

This is such a complicated question that, if you’re a regular reader, you could easily become confused.

We’ve written that despite the skyrocketing costs, a college degree is still more valuable over time.

We’ve also reported on one poll that showed most everyone thinks college is worth it — and another poll that showed most adults think college is a waste of time and money.

The problem, of course, is that one size doesn’t fit everyone. It also depends on your profession. As a CPA and financial counselor, I have two degrees and numerous certifications. Then again, I’ve worked with many talented people who are experts in their field, and they have no degrees — because those fields don’t require them.

Of course, none of this helps you with your son, Leslie. So let’s break it down…

1. Working before college

Your idea of letting your son work a year before heading off to college is a time-honored and proven one. However, it may be better for him not to work with you.

Your wife wants your son to leave home as much to grow up as ace college courses. You might want to consider pointing him to entry-level work at companies that offer “tuition assistance.” has compiled a list called The 10 Best Companies That Will Pay For Your College.

Not only will this make a dent in his eventual college costs, but your son will learn new skills and have to relate to new people.

2. Splitting the difference

You mention that your son has been accepted to community college. I love community colleges. The first two years of college are required courses that differ much less than you think from school to school. Tuition is cheaper, and if he lives at home, the savings are substantial.

On a related topic: I recommend parents charge their children rent after they graduate from high school. You can set this money aside for them later; but it’s important for them to learn financial life skills that are seldom taught in school.

If your son learns to love school, he can leave home for the next two years as a more mature and better financed student. Your wife will still see her goals achieved.

3. Don’t go to college at all

Last year, I receiveda similar question to yours, Leslie. Except it was from a young man whose parents were fighting about whether to send him to college. I consulted my fellow financial expert Steve Rhode, because he has a unique and bold perspective on this issue. Known as the Get Out of Debt Guy, Steve says don’t go to college at all if you don’t want to.

That gets us back to a key point: What your son thinks he wants. It sounds like he’s unsure. I agree with you on this, Leslie: It’s not financially wise to take out big loans for a four-year school far from home if your son isn’t sure that’s what he wants. Before doing anything, all three of you need to sit down and discuss the options I’ve laid out here.

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