6 Ways to Support Your Non-College Bound Child

College isn't for everyone. If your child decides not to attend college, don’t fret—here are 6 ways to focus on a bright future.


Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #427

Early May is the time when most high school seniors have finally made their decision as to which college they will attend in the fall.  Emotions run high with excitement, anxiety, elation, worry, and everything in between once that tuition deposit has been made.

On the other hand, there are plenty of students who have not made their selection yet, and that’s not because they can’t choose between one college or another; it’s because they’ve decided they aren’t going to attend a college or university at all.

If you’ve dreamt that college would be part of your child’s future from that very first moment you held him/her in your arms as a newborn, you might be filled with another set of emotions: confusion, uncertainty, concern, and maybe even a tad bit of disappointment.

Mighty Mommy can relate because one of her kids decided to take another path other than college and you know what? It turned out to be a great decision. If your child decides not to be college bound, don’t fret—here are 6 ways to focus on a bright future.

#1. Don’t Pressure

Even if you feel certain that college is the best path for your teen, forcing them into something will only set them up for failure and frustration.

For students who are trying to figure things out, you might consider a gap year. A Gap Year is a break from formal education—typically taken after high school or before starting graduate school - which the student uses to travel or work. This period of time can be extremely valuable in helping your child get focused and figure out what his/her next step is.

According to ThinkProgress, “The high cost of college and other factors are causing American students to drop out before receiving their degree at higher rates than in other developed countries, according to a new study from Harvard University. Only 56 percent of the students who enter America’s colleges and universities graduate within six years, while only 29 percent of students who enter two-year programs complete their degrees within three years, the study found.”

So no matter how difficult it is hearing that college is not the plan (at least not yet), don’t lay unnecessary pressure on your teen.  Give your kid a chance to figure things out on his own.

#2.  Explore Their Interests

Many times, as in the case of my son, teenagers don’t have any idea why they want to attend college. He didn’t gravitate to studying like my other kids did and quite frankly didn’t take school seriously.  I wasn’t really surprised to learn that he didn’t want to go to college, but I also wasn’t sure how to help him figure out what he was passionate about so he could build a career for his future.  A guidance counselor from our high school suggested that my son do a career search to start exploring different possibilities. This on-line tool called Major and Career Search allows a student to imagine himself in different roles by exploring various careers and interests. You can find information on more than 300 careers here, which range from air traffic controller to wildlife technician. My son realized he had two big interests—working outdoors as well as a passion for cooking. He knew he was not cut out for the corporate world working in a business office. Taking chunks of quality time to explore what he liked and disliked help put him on the right career path.

#3.  Encourage Community Involvement

Successful people know and care about what's going on in their community and around the world.  I’ve always been a firm believer in giving back or helping to support one or two causes throughout the year in addition to my busy role as a full-time working mom of 8 kids. Not only do I enjoy volunteer work, but my kids have grown up watching me involved in various aspects of the community including their schools and our church.  A young teen who is not ready for college can stay grounded to his/her community which in turn promotes personal growth.  Organizations such as 4-H, The Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, and Kiwanis Key Club always encourage their members to volunteer in the community. Many of them will also help foster beneficial, ethical values that can remain with your child for life. For parents who do not have the time available to help their kids to the fullest, these organizations are a blessing.

Check out www.idealist.org for specific opportunities for teenagers in your area.  See Also:  5 Fun Ways to Encourage Kids to Volunteer


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.