As parents, we are always viewing the lives of our children as a succession of stepping stones or building blocks. We’ve been told that we should play our kids music when they are babies so that they get a head start on mental development. We’re told that we need to enroll them in the best pre-schools, to give them a head start on education. We’re told that we need to push them harder throughout elementary school so that they can get into academically “talented and gifted” programs. We’re told that we need to make sure our kids are taking accelerated courses and SAT and ACT prep courses in high school so that they can get good grades, score high on standardized tests, and get into the “right college.” We’re even told that our kids need to fill their schedules with extracurricular activities, volunteer hours, special clubs, and societies, and more—not because our kids are passionate about those things, but because this stuff looks good on college applications.
It used to be that a college degree was a virtual guarantee of a good career. The common path was to work hard in college, graduate with good grades, score well on the ACT and SAT, and attend a reputed four-year university. Students that followed this path were, overall, well-prepared to enter the job market and start making a living.
A high school graduation is a significant milestone in many lives, and it often coincides with a young person beginning the final transition into adulthood. In the past, what that meant differed for many people. Today, however, the predominant path involves immediate entrance into college. Many high school students spend their senior years in a chaotic rush of college and scholarship applications, after all. Despite the growing real cost of studying in a university, attendance rates continue to increase. The explanation often goes that earning a degree ostensibly makes one more valuable as an employee, so the tuition, fees, and other associated costs are a justifiable expense.