I have spent the last ten years ranting about how stupid it is to spend money on college. So it is the Murphy’s Law of punditry that both my kids would choose conventional paths through higher education.

Right now I have one kid who is literally begging me to find tutors who will teach to the test so he can go to college and launch an academic career in science. And the other son is auditioning for Juilliard in a few weeks – which means he won’t just be doing college, but extra years of college.

I have read enough about nurture vs nature to know that my kids are not making choices based on my parenting. They are making choices based on who they are. So I should just follow their lead and enjoy my time with them.

Okay. Fine. But while I am enjoying my time with them on their chosen paths, let me just say that academia and professional music have got to be two of the most high-risk/low reward careers out there. And I would not advise anyone to spend a lot of money on school thinking they’ll get that money back.

I know a lot of you are thinking in terms of college. If nothing else, homeschool kids killing it on the SAT, so why not leverage that, right? But I also know I am not the only person thinking that kids do not need to go to college. The reality is that your kids are probably doing well academically, but that doesn’t mean they will benefit from dumping tons of money and squandering time into the vortex of traditional college. So what is the best path to adulthood?

Work or study or both?
Some kids can start working, with each job presenting more ladders to climb, and school is a perfunctory hoop to jump through on the way to the top of the ladder. For these kids, school should be something that comes second to work. Take a look at the stories from students at Virginia College – school is not the focus of their life, but rather a tool they use to get to where they want to their life to go.

Of course, this scenario presupposes knowing where one wants to go in their career. If you don’t know what you want to do with yourself — at all — you probably need to spend time in school doing the difficult work of getting to know yourself that you should have been doing in your early teens. (Parents of pre-teens, take note. It’s never too early to decide what to do with your life. Really. It’s not a contract, but rather an exercise in flexing muscles of focus.)

Network management or healthcare management or liberal arts?
So if you have no idea how to focus yourself, go to school and practice. But don’t spend a lot of time or money. And go to a place that is practical. Because you don’t need four more years of Chaucer and Heidegger.

I was sniffing around the Virginia College site and I saw a list of areas of study. It blew me away. The list should be the list of choices you give to any kid who does not want to spend twelve hours a day learning from books. Go look at this list. It will get anyone thinking about really, where the future is. Because it’s not law and medicine. I’ll tell you that. Not when paralegals and nurse practitioners can do pretty much all the same things but at half the cost.

Instead of lawyer or doctor, think welder or plumber. 
USA Today reports that the new blue collar worker earns about $80K per year. And Blue Collar Gold: How to build a service business from the dirt up is a great book for understanding how to grow service businesses the same way you’d grow an online marketing business or a therapist practice. The only difference is that there is a glut of online marketers and therapists and there is a dearth of millennials stepping up to replace blue-collar workers who are retiring.

Finding an industry that interests you and is likely to provide employment is a much smarter path to adulthood than do what you love. Click that link. And then don’t ever give someone the advice to do what they love again. Do you like to eat? Is it your job? I rest my case.

Actually, you can do what you love. Just choose from the list of degrees that Virginia College offers. Really. There’s something there for everyone. Well, everyone who is not a trust fund kid and actually has to support themselves when they graduate.

Many of you are thinking your kid is too smart, too special, too privileged, too whatever to join the ranks of vocational schoolers. But you might consider that the paths you think smart kids should take probably aren’t as smart as you are thinking they are.

Nontraditional is the new traditional.
I think about the scholarships University of California at Irvine is giving to video gamers and it’s clear to me that even the kids going the traditional college route will not be doing it traditionally. Traditional college route is gone. You can embrace that, and head down the path of the people leading the march. Or you can hide in a study carrel and hope the realities of adult life go away.

And I think if I took a poll, many of us would choose the latter. But that’s for another post. In this post, the right answer is to embrace change and go forth with gusto.