Which college is right for a homeschooled kid?

I recently read this op-ed in the Chicago Tribune. A teacher wrote it. He has a typical story about how he thought homeschooling was terrible when he was teaching in Chicago public schools. He talked about socialization, math, all the objections we’ve heard a million times.

But then he started teaching at the college level, and his best student was a homeschooler who went to school for the first time when she went to college. He wrote a list of reasons about why she was so much better a student than everyone else.

She had escaped the collateral damage from 12 years of conventional schooling. I’m thinking of my own lost years in elementary school, as a bored-out-of-my-gourd pupil in a classroom of 48 or more students doing busywork most of the day. So the schoolroom was still a novelty for her.

She applied her experience of one-on-one learning to the classroom format, as though she were the only one sitting in front of me. This led to plentiful and uninhibited conversation, and other students followed suit.

Having been the only person to be called on for 12 years, she did not use the group’s mass as camouflage, or a barrier, but accepted every question, suggestion, lesson and instruction as her own responsibility.

In home school she had daily conversations with one parent or the other about a myriad of subjects, whereas her texting, video-gaming, ear-bud-wearing classmates too often skated, side-stepped or escaped adult interaction much of their short lives.

If every student in my classroom were a radio, my home-schooled student was the one whose switch was turned on.

In the past 15 years, I’ve known of over a dozen home-schooled students in my college freshman and sophomore classes. All were competent in social interaction, and all had already developed their own methods of inquiry for independent learning.

All the reasons homeschool turns out self-directed learners, and all the reasons school does not, seem to apply to college as well. Most college students sit in classrooms. They do homework. They learn what they are told to learn. They can only choose from the topics of the courses that are open to them in a given semester. They can only learn things that can be taught in a lecture setting.

I wonder though, what is the point of sending them to college after they have already shown themselves to be excellent at self-directed learning? Why do they need college? Why not just go straight into the workforce?

I’ve been reading a book called Schools on Trial by Nikhil Goyal. He hated high school and he spend the whole time writing a book about how terrible high school is. The research is excellent, it’s a big, impressive publisher (Doubleday) and the book would be remarkable even if it were written by a 40-year-old investigative reporter.

So, here’s this kid who is clearly able to do his life without college. Where does he go? To Goddard, which is a well respected school but very alternative in that it’s low-residency and encourages independent learning instead of classroom learning. When I read that, it made total sense to me. Of course a kid who wrote a treatise against classroom learning is going to Goddard.

But what do you think? Why should homeschoolers go to college at all when the structure is just as messed up as high school?

Before you try to answer that question, just please do not talk to me about the love of learning, okay? You do not need to go to college because you love to learn. Of course you can learn outside of college.

Now, what do you guys think?

57 replies
  1. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    College is already outdated. Education will turn into a bunch of clubs and private networks because it’s so useless to pay $$$$$ for a piece of paper saying you attended lectures that are available online anyway (Ted talks and blogs have replaced the need for college).

    Homeschoolers go to college because people are insecure about homeschooling and need to feel like they can fit in. But pretty soon going to school will keep people from fitting in because it’ll be stigmatized because it’s so useless. So, the next generation of homeschoolers won’t need to prove that they can do life and won’t need college.

  2. Shannon m
    Shannon m says:

    I think college is a key social experience ESP with dorming. They can work and go to college. Get decent score on exams they’ll be able to go to s decent state school.

  3. Shannon m
    Shannon m says:

    Also TED talks haven’t replaced college. Most folks don’t have discipline for home learning like that including homeachoolers because it’s boring

  4. Passing by
    Passing by says:

    Penelope let your kids have the college experience. If they don’t like it they can leave. Learning is social. Sitting home watching ted is not like homeschooling. I think Ted is overrated.

    • Caitlin
      Caitlin says:

      It is overrated. But it’s efficient. Way more efficient than college. Besides, there are so many lectures available to the public both online and in person, and you can just read the person’s book or blog if you’re not a lecture person. So then, with college, you’re paying for the learning structure (like high school) and someone to edit your ideas, but you can just get your ideas edited in other more efficient and inexpensive ways.

      And @Shannon, people who aren’t motivated to do self directed leaning are especially not a good fit for college.

  5. Cay
    Cay says:

    Homeschooled children can benefit from college because:

    1) A college degree is a social signal. High schools do not go on resumes; colleges do. I don’t think it has to be anywhere fancy, but like it or not, showing that you’ve had that experience makes a big difference to people who are hiring for a job.

    2. College essentially functions as a semi-structured social network that you pay to be a part of. This allows young adults to figure out their social identity within a big group of people, without the pressures that come with being under the watch of parents or bosses.

    3. This paid network also offers exposure to a wide variety of topics and activities that could be missed out on for a lifetime should the homeschooled child go directly to work. During some of their most formative years, this can be life-altering.

    4. College is not like high school. I hated high school, but loved college. There is so much more freedom, and people treat you more like an adult. You choose most of the subjects, when you will go to classes, and and when you will do your work.

    Strictly speaking, college is not necessary. But it is an enriching option. Most teenagers aren’t absolutely certain about what they are going to do with their lives, and college can be a good way to experience more of the world, if they are not completely ready for it already.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Cay – I would respectfully like suggest that, for the same price, a kid could have a more enriching experience traveling around the world & they’d discover much more out about themselves.

      Perhaps parents like college bc it feels like a safe way to let our kids go.


      • Cay
        Cay says:

        Hi Erin,

        I think travel can be an enriching experience, but it also really depends on the individual, what s/he is doing while traveling, and what s/he ultimately gets out of it.

        I generally think whatever people choose to do with their lives is fine as long as they’re not hurting other people. If a person wants to travel around the world bartending for the rest of his or her life, they are entitled to do that. Or if they want to take a gap year, or never travel, or whatever.

        My comment was in response to Penelope’s question, “Why should homeschoolers go to college at all when the structure is just as messed up as high school?”


  6. Bostonian
    Bostonian says:

    For me there are two main reasons I expect my kids should go to college. That’s besides the fact that I really loved college (so much that I attended many of them and got many degrees).

    Reason 1: You want to work in a profession that you can only enter through college. For example, if you want to be a blogger, or own a hair salon, fine, skip it. You want to be a scientist? A doctor? A professor? Go to college.

    At college, you will be able to study alongside other people who have the same interests you do (unlikely to find in your homeschool coop or book group), you will have access to resources your dad really can’t put in his basement for you, and you may meet people who are already engaged in the profession to which you aspire.

    I knew when I was a child that I wanted to work in a profession that required college. It turned out to be different than I expected (I thought I’d be a professor and I turned out to be a logistician), but I could never have had the career I did have without college. Likewise, my wife could not have her career without college. The people we have over to dinner, or socialize with, also mostly (yeah, okay, one of my best friends is actually a DJ, but he’s a stay-at-home dad married to a doctor so that doesn’t count) have careers that require college.

    2. If what you want to do in adult life includes staying home with the kids, this is actually another good reason to go to college. College is a good place to meet potential mates who will have college-dependent careers that pay enough to support a stay-at-home spouse.

    Before anybody imagines this statement is sexism on my part, remember that I’m a dude. And I went back to college reunions with a purpose until I my wife and I got together.

    College is not right for some people. There are good careers that don’t require college. There are low-salary careers that people love anyway. And there are people for whom college would be a waste of time. But it wasn’t a waste of time for anybody in my family, and it won’t likely be for my kids either.

    • JDVT
      JDVT says:

      I have been reading your comments for some time and had guessed you were female…

      Interesting that you already know college is the right choice for members of your household.

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        I will take the mistaken assumptions about my gender as a compliment. I imagine it is only natural to assume that someone so concerned with and committed to their child’s development and emotional wellbeing should be female; that would be a statistically sound prediction. Oddly enough, though, I am a man, and I find being a stay at home, homeschooling parent far more fulfilling than any job I have ever had.

        To the question of how I can feel so sure my children would benefit from college, in my son’s case this would not be unclear to anybody who met him. On Thursday I overheard him coordinating a Skype conference with his peers in which they designed an experiment. At eleven, he has excellent lateral leadership skills. He spends hours every day researching genetics, mutation, bacteria, etc., and is infectiously excited about science, even more so when it involves group work with friends. Not sending him to college would be abuse.

        My daughter is only five, sharp as a tack, but only time will tell what really gets her fired up. Maybe she’ll run away and join the circus. Maybe she will drop out and be an actress or move to Vermont and make goat cheese. Or all three. I could come up with more possibilities, but the probability is that she will go to college like her parents did.

        • Jenny Hatch
          Jenny Hatch says:

          The “drop out and become an actress” line really cracks me up.

          Theatre is the most collaborative industry and those who do well at the high school and university level feed right into professional regional theatres, broadway, hollywood, and Vegas.

          An actress who has matriculated through a good musical theatre program at the university level will always do better short and long term than the gal who tries to audition her way up through community theatre.

          The connections made with industry insiders, reputations from working with specific professors and teachers, vocal coaches, and audition opportunities are unparalleled outside of the university system.

          I had to stick up for the hard working students in my field.


      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Bostonian was formerly Commenter who has said he was a homeschool dad for the last 2-3 years.


    • rachel
      rachel says:

      Agree with every point you made about why go to college. Also, college is nothing like high school

  7. Jeffrey Till
    Jeffrey Till says:

    I wouldn’t dare make a blanket recommendation for all homeschool kids, nor should anyone, but I’m banking on my kids not going to college.

    If they want to go and party I’ll recommend that they just take some classes for fun, but not worry about a degree and certainly not incur tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

    Obviously if they want to be a doctor, lawyer, or scientists than they have to go.

    I’m informally involved with Praxis http://www.discoverpraxis.com which is an alternative to college, and very supportive of self-directed learners. My good friend Isaac Morehouse runs it and we have an obsessive hobby of trying to rethink education and learning.

  8. Deidre
    Deidre says:

    Depends what future you want them to have. College degrees prove that a person can put up with lots of abuse for a piece of paper, which corporate world loves. If you want your kids to be corporate geeks, send them to college.
    If you want them to be entrepreneurs, thinking on their feet, thrive without structure or defined path, be comfortable with risk, learn anything they want on their feet, innovate, create their own destiny, than don’t send them into college for a degree. Much harder to create those young adult experiences: may be trying businesses and failing, traveling, writing, performing, whatever. Much easier to just dump them into college. But no college will do that.

    • Emma_B
      Emma_B says:

      I disagree about the fact that sending your kids to college is or not the right choice depending on the future that you want for them. For me, as mentioned by Bostonian, it depends on the type of job that your kids are going to have, and I think this should not depend on what your want for your kids, but on their aptitudes and motivations.

      It seems to me strange to suppose that the only way to have a fulfilling carreer is to be an entrepreneur (it might be a cutural thing, as I am from France -and all my apologies for the clumsy english!). I do not doubt that for some people it is the very best choice, but other people thrive as “corporate geek”, and that is great too!

      I really do not think that is possible to be general here (“No child should ever go to college!”). I think that it is surprising that, given Penelope’s interest in MB scores, ie in the diversity of people personalities, she thinks that a “one size fits all” approach to educational advices works here.

  9. Jennifa
    Jennifa says:

    If a kid had been homeschooled and is now 18. Let them figure out if college is worth it for themselves. You sign up for a semester at a time, its not a lifes sentence.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This seems so obvious yet the conclusion has totally eluded me. Of course it should be a kid’s decision. But like all these moments – when it’s the kid’s decision – it’s so difficult as a parent to not make it my decision.


  10. Lifeiswhatyoumakeit
    Lifeiswhatyoumakeit says:

    Penelope, let your son enroll in one semester if he wants. He can tell advisors to relax with the four year plan and academic advising. He can use the semester to take 3-4 classes in person. He may never have the experience again. This is ONLY if he wants. If you look at it from a bunch a different angles, time and time again, four years at one confined place is no good. If working adults had to endure such stagnation, monotony, and physical control (showing up for classes, staying in seat), they would quit and find another job! Of course, many people from poor backgrounds still view it as a necessary ticket out of their predicaments. Often, college simply solidifies class differences. A richer kid might not mind being at a big state school using his parents money, partying, just passing classes. Poorer students at said school might try to emulate this behavior, only to find out that when they go home on breaks their parents are still working hard jobs and counting on them to put themselves in a better situation. What guilt, what shame to know that your parents think you are being equipped to take off with the high-flyers upon graduation and you are really just kicking around rocks. Many just simply aren’t willing to bear the absurdity of the whole thing until the last semester of college, where they can openly bash the experience now that they’ve secured their golden ticket.

    Let’s knock off the desperate attempts at class ascension through affiliation with a school. This is one of the strongest holdouts in the American myth of beautiful sameness. He may just want to take one course and keep it moving, get experience, and do the science Ph.D. he says he wants to get.

  11. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I like how William A Clark set the example of college. In the 1800s he bought land in Montana. Spent a semester learning about rocks. Came back, tested his soil, found copper, and made more money than people could count.

    But, that’s not how the system works. And despite my dislike of the system, depending on your job field you have to some what play the game. It seems to no longer matter what you have a degree in, only that you have one. You can make money without a degree but you have to do more of fringe type work, than typical corporate america. It depends on your goals.

  12. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    As the college professor described his homeschooled student, I wondered what the experience was like from her perspective. He said the classroom experience was a “novelty” for her. Did she find it fun? Interesting? Boring? What did she think of the other students?

    What did the other students think of her? Did it seem like this one student in class spent all her time talking to the professor? Did they think she was a suck-up, or weird, or entitled? He describes them as following suit, though, as if her engagement influenced the others. In college I had a few classes where there was a lot of discussion among everyone in the room – the students and professor alike. They tended to be smaller classes, though, not the ones with 200-300 students in them.

    A co-worker of mine said in an e-mail recently that when he gets frustrated with things, he looks at his college ring. It reminds him not that he is smart, but that he is able to learn. It kind of made me cringe, because maybe it just shows you were willing to check boxes and jump through hoops for no good reason.

  13. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    Ooh boy, here we go…

    I also absolutely loathed high school. While my grades were atrocious, thanks to my interest in fine arts, my teachers still supported and took a special interest in me because they knew I cared, just not in a way that was encouraged by their standard curriculum. I also had the great privilege of going to a private school that spans from pre-K to high school. I spent the majority of my school years at the same school, so by the time I became a ‘fledgling young adult’ during high school, the teachers knew my background and family well enough to take a more invested interest in me- I suspect.
    I had a special relationship with my senior year AP English teacher, who was an alumni of Sarah Lawrence- an independent college very similar in learning style and approach to Goddard. Goddard was probably a predecessor of SLC. Although what I REALLY wanted to do, was be an au pair for a year, I was discouarged from doing this from my mother, for whom, having been raised in the poorest county in Missouri, came from the perspective that having had her life completely changed by a formal college education- which she worked three jobs to get through, etc., and which really paid off for her, attending college was 100x over more respectable than childcare.
    So, I ended up seriously applying to only two different liberal art schools– I was strongly encouraged to pick SLC, where I could strike a balance between my artistic, and other intellectual interests (neuroscience, psychology), as the hallmark of the school is constructing your own individualized curriculum, and the basis of the learning approach is seminar-style classrooms and regular meetings with each of your teachers to discuss the ongoing research papers you’re working which supplement the regular class work.
    The academics were awesome- which really means, the professors were top notch. Like, faculty voted #1 by the princeton review in 2013. But most of them were just completely entrenched in the world of academia. The students, however, were steeped in an east coast privilege…which, even after spending the bulk of my school years in a private school in SOCAL, was unlike any other privilege I’d experienced in my peers. It was more of an intellectual privilege that these east coasters had– as though their parents were academics themselves, and they’d been so accustomed to this high intellectualism their whole lives, that there was little incentive to really think for themselves, or care very much at all for their education. The seminar-style learning which was so unique about SLC, more often than not would devolve into each student trying desperately/speaking to the teacher, rather than engaging with their fellow classmates, which was the whole point. There were of course exceptions to this. My classes in public policy, studio arts, and music had the most engaged students. Most specifically, I felt the *smartest* students I’d met at SLC, was in my class on Cannabis Policy in the United States. Our teacher would smoke weed with us everyday after class. You can say whatever you want about the total and complete lack of responsibility on the part of a teacher who was later dismissed, not because of the very ‘open secret’ of partaking with his students, but because a few girls in the class had come forward that sexual relations had evolved between them. To me though, the simple fact is, that he was able to establish a sense of *community* among our classmates that no other teacher, or group of students, was successful in achieving in any other classroom.

    I had a very talented photographer friend- one photography teacher becoming a very influential mentor for him, and said that SLC are students- apart from, I’d imagine, very specific programs such as NYU Tisch- were uniquely talented and motivated unlike other art schools she;d taught at, where students primary interests was pretty much always ‘commercial’ art. Even then, partying and hard drugs seemed like the biggest occupation for these SLC art students- a very saddening experience for my friend, for whom art was merely an avenue for achieving real intimacy and honest connection between people.

    Here’s what I think: If college is an absolute must for a young person, they know exactly what they want out of the education, how it will contribute to their future, and where it is they want to go– then by all means, yes, invest in an unmatched educational experience like Sarah Lawrence- an educational experience more akin to grad school for the rigor and responsibility it takes to really succeed in such an atmosphere and high caliber of intellectual thought. With that said, and I don’t know whether it’s as simple as these schools make the additional prerequisite that students must work, in SOME type of occupation, it doesn’t matter what– but there must be a better transition from high school to college. A “rite of passage”, so to speak. Otherwise, after receiving a top notch education in areas that have absolutely ZERO application in the real world, of what importance is such an intellectually rigorous college education? How would I, as a woman, been stronger and more capable today, had I spent a year as an au pair, and not just in a protected college community ?
    Since graduating two years ago, I have since seriously considered being a small scale farmer, and as such, I really have come to admire certain models of alternative college education which require a certain number of hours of farm work, etc., or some kind of physical work which, in effect, brings the entire young person into action. Not just their brain. And the requirement of physical education credits does not cut it– Witnessing young woman abuse their bodies for endless hours on the eliptical machine all in the name of being skinny and somehow more attractive is so frustrating and so sad, and is such a waste for such talented young people. I understand a formal education, even at the very high expense, cannot offer everything. But Christ, with the likes of incredible movement teachers such as top practitioners of Moshe Feldenkrais training, and Martha Graham herself, having a history of professorship at SLC, is it SO anathema in a school that fancies itself the paragon of intellectual freedom, that you can’t make it a requirement to experience one of these movement classes??? There are very strong correlations between athletes being, bar none, The Best Students. Dancers included.

    Anyways… In addition, and as indicated in the example of my cannabis calss, SLC- and I don’t know much about the student body/ ‘community’ experience at other similar institutions– is infamous for how pathetic the community sense of their student body is. Students essentially seem to make their friends freshman year, with very little attempt at branching out after those groups are solidified. It made for an extremely ironic separation between academic disciplines in a school which lauds itself on its interdisciplinary and creative approach to learning. Maybe this is okay, and reflective of the difficulty of making friendships in the adult working world, outside of your line of work. I don’t know. But it certainly does not foster creativity.

    • Ashley
      Ashley says:

      I realized that basically the only thing I saw in your post were the words ‘Goddard’ and ‘homeschool,’ and now that I read the professor’s perspective on his superb homeschool students, I have more of my own experience to contribute…

      There were a fair number of homeschoolers at SLC. In terms of sheer numbers, they were the most interesting of my peers.
      I did a project where I emailed former peers of my Waldorf-taught friend, finding all of them extremely articulate and capable of forming their own opinions. However, I never interacted with them in person. I did, of course, interact with other homeschoolers and waldorf students, and what I found was that they did seem, in some way, a bit socially stunted. Perhaps you can chalk it up to difference in personalities. But they seemed on the far end of introversion– and while they did, eventually- as in, their last year of college– finally learn to better integrated and assimilate with their fellow classmates, it wasn’t uncommon for me to see them, alone, studying for very long hours in the library. They had a very apparent and unmatched capacity for concentration– and always, always, a very unique appreciation for and approach to their own interests– but they didn’t quite know how to confidently express themselves in a shared classroom setting. And, interacting with them one-on-one, there was definitely an element of feeling intensely observed, and mined as though a sociological study, and less a feeling of actual mutual exchange. A certain aura of aloneness these particular individuals did seem shrouded in. In a school bloated with the irony that students tried so hard to be different, that they ended up conforming to a similar type of persona and style, it was refreshing for myself- as also a staunch individualist.
      …Yeah, to reiterate the last portion of my comment, one of the core issues is there needs to be a way to find that ‘balance’ between community and individuality.

  14. Sarah M
    Sarah M says:

    I don’t think that every child-traditionally schooled or home schooled-needs to go to college. I really think it depends on what they want to do. If you want to be a surgeon, you’re not getting into med school without an undergrad degree, period.
    If you want to be in a service industry, you probably don’t need to waste the time and money, just get a lot of experience and make your steps align with your goals.
    I do not think ‘the college experience’ is a valid argument at all. I had a pretty unique college experience in the fact that I moved out of my house at 17 (on my own dime, to an apartment, not the dorms) never took less than 17 credit hours per semester, often 20+, worked 20-25 hours a week at my job (which I loved, at a bookstore, and am great friends with those people 10 years later), and got married sophomore year. I had NO desire, and have no regrets, about never being in the dorms, eating on an expensive meal plan, and having the typical ‘college experience’. I paid my way, got a lot of scholarships, planned and lived my own life doing what I wanted and only had to pay $4500 out of loans to do it-miniscule by most. I’m grateful I didn’t have that experience, because frankly, it would have wasted a lot of my time being in an environment I had no desire to be in.
    Sarah M

  15. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Owing almost $100,000 in student loans after two degrees, I don’t want to tell my boys it is a necessary endeavor. However, most of the career aspirations they have voiced thus far are unachievable without so bought and paid for initials behind their last names.

  16. Holly
    Holly says:

    I agree with the points expressed by Bostonian. While I do think college is over emphasized in the US and too many kids are pushed into it that might do better with a different route, there are really some good reasons to go to college:

    1) it can actually be useful
    I knew my whole life I wanted to be a scientist or engineer, and arriving at a Big Name school coming from a small rural town felt like winning the lottery. I just couldn’t wait to drink up all the knowledge being served up to me and seize all the opportunities for internships and activities, which I knew would be so useful to me in gaining the skills to do what I wanted to do in life. The labs, libraries, job opportunities, classes, and people were all fantastic and would have been completely unavailable if I had not gone to school there. Some of this is different these days, but I think mostly it is still true. Of course I had some complaints about how things were run, and especially how much it cost. But overall totally worth the time, money, and effort, at least for me.

    2) it will open doors for you
    I can’t tell you how many times when meeting someone for the first time, especially in my work as an engineer, they were super impressed with where I went to school and thus started off with an excellent first impression of me. It is an awful truth, and completely unfair. Still happens even though I’m 40 now! But I’m glad to be benefiting from this degree bias rather than suffering from it, as I would be if I didn’t have a degree. I spent a summer in China in 1995 while I was at college, and even peasants in remote areas of China who had never seen a white guy before knew of my school and thought it was great!

    Thanks to the network of smart, talented people I made friends with at college and the way people are instantly impressed by my degree even if they don’t know anything about me, I’ve never really had to apply for a job. Instead, I’ve been invited to join and had my pick of what to do. As a result I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy stimulating, rewarding, challenging, well compensated work at companies I can believe in. My hope is that mostly this is because I’m a top notch engineer, but college served a crucial role in making me so.

    It isn’t impossible to succeed without the degree in engineering and science, but it is going to be much much harder than it otherwise would be. My wife has a BS in chemistry, and in that field you are a peon unless you have a PhD. I simply can’t imagine someone getting hired at all without a BS. Might be stupid, but it’s true. Anyway, she is pretty happy now homeschooling the kids. Luckily my BS in engineering is fine for what I do and I can earn enough to support us all.

  17. Teach By Type
    Teach By Type says:

    I can’t make a case for getting a college degree, but a case for enrolling in a college, even for one course, is to get yourself one of the many jobs that claim to require a college degree.

    By being actively enrolled in one continuing ed class, I could put a college on my resume. Without this, I don’t think I could have successfully launched my career in engineering. They assumed I would finish my degree, but it was unnecessary to do so once established.


  18. Dana
    Dana says:

    I’ve raised 3 homeschooled kids, one is a senior in college, his decision after working a year, one does not want to go to college and is writing a novel and selling crafts and the third is still finishing his senior homeschooled year and trying to decide what to do, but it’s his choice, not mine.

  19. Erin
    Erin says:

    This info might be outdated, but when I was in college a decade ago, a lot of research and publications were only available through the university. They were gatekeepers on research & knowledge. These scholarly publications were not available on the open internet at the time, but the college had access to a database where we could search/access/print/read/loan the material (depending on source).

    The only other reason I can think of for going to college is networking & access to relationships with a certain socioeconomic circle.

  20. Virginia
    Virginia says:

    Well, for any of the STEM jobs, college is a requirement. I went to public high school and then to college for engineering. College was the first place where I really was really challenged. There is no way I would have learned differential equations on my own. Learning complex math gave me a lot more confidence because I learned how to do something difficult.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I have a son who is dead-set (now) on STEM. But there are so many other issues. He is smart enough to get into a normal, B-tier school with not much effort. That seems fine to me. But he is more and more interested in a top-tier school. And I feel like: too much work. And it’s grad school that matters anyway. And then I feel like I should just help him to do whatever he wants to do. I don’t know. I’m just babbling now, I think. If I had something earthshattering to say on this topic I’d write a blog post. Instead, I just worry. STEM already seems so hard to me, anyway, as a double-science-flunkard.


      • redrock
        redrock says:

        your arguments sounds a little bit familiar – my mum had similar comments about my interest in science. Firstly, your son finds science easier then writing – you find writing easier then science. And good science is hard in the same way good writing is hard. Secondly, I work 12 hours a day (or more) on science and you work presumably 12 hours a day on writing and entrepreneuring – it is just that I would most likely fail at your job as much as you would fail at mine. So – hard is relative. If he has aptitude and interest it will be easier for him to succeed in science then to succeed in being an entrepreneur or writer.

  21. JDVT
    JDVT says:

    I’d love to read comments from someone other than the college educated writers here.

    My husband did not get his B.S. until he was almost 40. He never needed it and he worked in IT. He finally knocked on a door that was closed to him without a degree so off he went.

    $60,000 per year for an “education” is messed up.

    • Teach By Type
      Teach By Type says:

      I’m not sure exactly where to post this comment, as it’s not specific to this post. But you got me thinking…

      If a homeschooler doesn’t go to college, or graduates from CC at 17, and then launches their career, s/he will probably be the youngest in that work place. For a good number of years.

      I remember being the only one teen in the work place. Surrounded by co-workers who were 10+ years older than me. It sucked.

      Is a homeschooler destined to be an outlier until she reaches the age most kids graduate college from?


  22. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    I’m raising my three children to be independent, self-sufficient freethinkers. It they choose to go to college or to sell fruit on the street corner I will support them. I am not their Ceo and they are not my personal property. They can decide for themselves what to do with their lives. Two of them want a career in STEM, this by default means college. I told them I will help get them there and guide them in the process and have laid out plans. But it is their choice. Not mine.

    • Tracy
      Tracy says:

      I disagree that a career in STEM means college by default. I’m increasingly seeing alternate paths in my industry, where tech is changing so rapidly colleges can barely keep up. You could more easily (and cheaply) get a job by starting an open-source project and building a community around it (perhaps with some kickstarter funding to get you going). Then nobody asks if you have a college degree. Also, increasingly there are company & foundation-based mentoring schemes, almost like apprenticeships for coding, like Google Summer of Code,Outreachy – they are open to all to encourage diversity, and I see them getting more and more open which means you could sign up without a college degree, get mentoring then prove your worth on the job land get yourself a job via that route.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        My older two kids have zero desires to be entrepreneurial. My oldest wants to work in a career in cybernetics/bioengineering. Sure she has the ability to tinker now and create cool things on her own, but college will give her access to professors, mentors, research opportunities, networking and science equipment that we would never be able to afford.

        I appreciate that people are aware of alternatives, as am I, and if my kids decide they don’t need college I won’t be heartbroken about it. But tedx talks, angel investors, starting companies isn’t something my kids are interested in. If they were, I would be all over alternatives that I have researched, and that is something they could still do with a college degree later. I keep checking major companies as well as start ups to see if they removed the degree requirements from the job reqs for engineering and to date I haven’t found one. Other positions I have seen will accept ten years of professional experience in lieu of a 4 year degree. One is 6 years behind in their career and income potential at that point.

  23. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think it’s interesting Nikhil Goyal decided to go to college. He writes a book on how much he hates school, how terrible it is, etc. and yet is willing to go to an institution of higher education. I’m left wondering what will be his major. Journalism? Education? Why does he fell the need to pursue a degree? Is it because he’s trying to deschool himself in a gradual fashion because I’m beginning to think the height of schooling is high school. So rather than go “cold turkey” into the “real world”, he’s taking the gradual descent as many schooled people his age decide to do. I agree with other commenters above that the decision to go to college is as unique as the individual (or at least should be). Go to college, enter the military, start your own business, take an entry level job in business, etc. but whatever you do know why you’re doing it and do it to the best of your ability and all your energy to make your efforts worthwhile, memorable, and discovery to know yourself better. I think that’s getting off on the right track and a direction to pursue learning for the rest of your life. Which college – the college of hard knocks – accredited or otherwise.

  24. Caitlin T
    Caitlin T says:

    I think one important point is that college as we know it is going to implode in the near future because the amount of student debt is crazy for the watered-down college that is moving online at almost every university. So, people are talking about how it’s useful for getting qualified for STEM jobs or it’s useful for networking or it’s useful for finding yourself. But, as college becomes the new high school, more elite and efficient means of getting those things will pop up. So, it’ll be totally ridiculous to pay $100,000 for a diploma when you can get a network-worthy apprenticeship for free and then market your portfolio online. Or maybe pay $10,000/yr for 5 years to be in an elite private network that includes professional mentoring. It’ll be about going straight to the source of what you’re looking for. The near future won’t look like the baby boomer generation where you go to college as an entry ticket to a middle-class life.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Regardless, isn’t it up to our children as individuals to make their own choices? I have read the post and comments and I can’t get past the fact that most here are treating their children as property without rights in their responses.

      If my child wants to finance their education, even a fraction of it, to be able to do what she wants and is happy with her choice, shouldn’t she be free to do that? If my other child wants to start her own company without a $100k piece of paper, and she is capable, shouldn’t she be free to choose that? I’m not comfortable telling my kids what they can or cannot do. But as their guide I can help show them what they need to do in order to get where they want in life. We are already the most unconventional people in my entire family, and only a few friends are even more to the left of me! I can’t help that I have children who desire to be academic, and I’m not going to stand in their way. But I will be as realistic and pragmatic as possible with them.

      Much like I have to keep getting over the idea that my kids will most likely never be a talented athlete like I was, parents need to also get over trying controlling their children’s outcome in other areas of life. Help them be the best they can, show alternatives, but let them decide.

  25. INTJ Professor
    INTJ Professor says:

    My experience with homeschooled students in the college courses that I teach is very like that of the op-ed writer’s experiences. Homeschooled kids make great college students.

  26. aquinas heard
    aquinas heard says:

    What I find most strange about Penelope’s question is that it seems to be directed at parents. Your child’s life is their own. It is not up to a parent to figure out what college is the best for their child. A parent can provide information to their child about learning options for when their child leaves the house but ultimately it is up to the child to decide what to do with their life.

    • MC
      MC says:

      Lack of parental oversight is how you get kids borrowing $200k just to get a sociology from the State U.

      • aquinas heard
        aquinas heard says:

        I disagree. Your scenario partly happens because a parent has not been having discussions throughout the child’s life about risk/reward. This scenario also happens because it is often inculcated in a child’s mind that they must get a college degree. A freely raised child can also come to the conclusion that it is irrational to get a loan for $200k for a sociology degree.

        • MC
          MC says:

          “A freely raised child can also come to the conclusion that it is irrational to get a loan for $200k for a sociology degree.”

          Never said they couldn’t. I’m saying that a lot fewer kids would end up making dumb educational choices if their parent’s actually exercised some oversight about where and how they attend college.

  27. MC
    MC says:

    There’s one enormous difference between college and high school: time in class.

    A college student spends 15 hours a week in class, a high schooler 35-40. When you look at it that way, the time spent in class in college is closer to homeschool (zero) than it is to high school. That’s why the homeschool girl was well adapted to college; most of the studying and learning is on your own.

    This is by no means a complete defense of college. Lots of college classes are no better than high school. But the best college classes, learning-wise, probably take you places that you could not get to on your own. And at worst you’re only wasting 15 hours a week sitting in class rather than 40.

    Wasting money is another question entirely…

  28. BenK
    BenK says:

    We’ve got the credential argument; there is the social argument; perhaps under-rated is the facilities argument. Many advanced subjects can’t be adequately taught without certain kinds of teachers and facilities. These are typically STEM, but also can be fine arts, drama, etc. College is a great idea if you need an apprenticeship in organic chemistry, for example.

  29. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Why go to college? Because degrees open doors. Because without that piece of paper (right or wrong) many doors will be closed to your child.

  30. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    I don’t have homeschooled kids, much less homeschooled teenagers right now, but I think one of the biggest reasons for letting young people go to college is the whole letting them go phenomenon.

    Teenagers need to grow up. They need to leave the house, and they need to do it sooner than later (even if they are autistic).

    The biggest lesson that young people need to learn is how to be an adult all on their own.

    Are homeschoolers likely well equipped for this? Yes, it is likely.

    Are there avenues for this outside of college? Of course there are. It would be ridiculous to assume young people need college. However, if you’ve got the money, and they’ve got the desire, it seems like as good of an option as many others.

    Now, if you don’t have the money, that’s a whole different discussion.

  31. Cristina
    Cristina says:

    I have two that went the homeschool to college route so far. The oldest was intimidated from age 15 by all the “What college are you going to?” questions. She started at 17 and has always been a model student, so she did exceptionally at community college, got her associate degree and moved on to a university where she is thriving and will be graduating in May. For her, college was a good fit. She was excited about almost every class. With her, the only issue was her “people pleaser” personality made it stressful, especially in the beginning. For example, I spent a lot of her early college years explaining that the syllabus was only a guideline and she didn’t need to have everything handed in on the due date when she could negotiate for more time.

    My middle child just started last fall at 19. I never pushed him to go because he likes computer animation and game design and had a great internship in the area where he got to work with cutting edge equipment while learning the digital arts. I asked him why he wanted to go and his reasoning was that he wanted to be better at the business end of what he does. He’s struggled more than his sister. His handwriting is poor in spite of my best efforts to help him with it, and it gets worse under stress. He failed the placements in essay writing and algebra and decided it would be easier to just take the remedial classes than go through the tests again. Another wrinkle in our state of NY is that you are required to have a high school or equivalent diploma or you can’t even receive the college degree from a state school. But he is putting in the effort because he is goal oriented and willing to jump the hoops.

    So is college worth it? Yes and no. I think the mentoring and connections they get from professors and friendships are useful. But, I also think it is too wrapped up in what is going on in the public schools and many of the core requirements are a waste of time. I’ve heard all of the arguments about why you need these courses: Essay writing teaches you to communicate; algebra and higher math teach you to think logically; etc. Heck, I’ve used them myself. But it doesn’t help the students who only feel fully engaged in classes they want to take, not in the classes they are required to take.

  32. Oliver
    Oliver says:

    Inspiring to hear these comments from those who have stuck with it! Our oldest is graduating from homeschool this May, but it doesn’t seem to get easier to “stay the course”. Today I was just thinking, ” I don’t think I have it in me to do this anymore. (with planning next year for my younger 2). Thanks for the encouraging post!

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