Why do you want your child to go to a 4-year college?

By Susan Pohorski

Students enjoying pizza and beer

Let’s be honest here. Are you encouraging or expecting your child to attend a 4-year college or university because it is the best choice for him or her? Or are there other reasons? 

Maybe you remember all the good times you had in college, the fraternity parties, the football games and dormitory life. You want your child to have those experiences too. 

In a recent survey of Wisconsin university students, 79 percent of the responders strongly agreed that their parents expected them to attend a 4-year college. Twenty-one percent said their parents discouraged them from enrolling in a two-year college. 

While academics may be the first priority for parents, many of their children who are prompted by parents to attend a four-year university, appear to be doing so more for the social aspects than the academics.

Many survey responders said they decided to attend their university because they “didn’t want to miss out on the party experience.”

Often children are hesitant to go against their parents’ wishes. Compliant children want to please. They want to avoid conflict. Other children have difficulty differentiating their identity from their parents’. 

Again, survey responders agreed the decision to attend a 4-year university was “more my parent(s) decision than mine.” 

Sure, parents walk a fine line of encouraging their children to achieve through high expectations, while holding realistic goals appropriate to the child’s abilities. However, expecting a child who lacks confidence in their own academic abilities, lacks interest, or simply doesn’t know what career they want to pursue to attend a 4-year university or college has considerable risks.

What are the risks?

  • Academic - If a student enrolls in a 4-year college or university without the necessary interest and motivation, they may struggle academically. Some students could become discouraged and drop out before completing their degree.
  • Financial – Tuition and other costs of a 4-year university are high. When a student drops out without completing a degree, they may not be able to earn enough to pay back student loans. Your investment in their education would not produce the desired result: a good paying career for your student.
  • Personal – Students who follow their parents dreams rather than their own, may have trouble identifying their career interests later. If they do not achieve their parents’ aspirations, they may have a hard time recovering from feelings of guilt and personal failure. Students often suffer from anxiety when they realize they are not living up to parents’ expectations.

If you expect your student to attend a four-year college or university, will you allow him or her to explore other educational options?  When discussing the future, careers and higher education, have you asked your child what he or she wants? 

Read more about parental influence in How to Raise An Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University.


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