“I Won’t Make My Son Go to University” is a post by Adina J, TimelessFinance columnist and author of Blue collar / Red lipstick.
I come from a family of engineers. I’m a third-generation (on both sides) university graduate with two degrees of my own, and I’m married to a double degree-holder. There is barely enough wall space in our house for all that paper! And yet, when the time comes, I won’t make my son go to university.
My husband and I were both born overseas in countries where a university degree (at the time) was not only a mark of intellectual distinction, but also the only way to stay a step or two above the poverty line. (Not much farther above it, as my future post about life under communism will explain.) Our parents inculcated the need for higher education very early on; it was simply inconceivable that we would not follow in their footsteps and attend university. On my parents’ part, the goal was to get me to the point of personal and financial self-sufficiency. They assumed that, as had been the case for them, the best and only way to achieve the latter was through academia. In this, they operated under biases and assumptions that were far less applicable in our new homeland. But they meant well. And they insisted that I get a “real” degree – none of that liberal arts stuff.
Looking back, I wish they had gone further. I wish they’d sat me down for a frank discussion about things like my lifestyle expectations, the earning potentials of different professions, and some cold hard numbers – like how much money it took to run their household and plan for the future. I eventually lucked out; I stumbled into a profession in which my skills are valued and well-compensated, and managed to do it at an opportune time, as far as economic cycles go. I managed to do all this, despite having no clear idea of what the heck I wanted to do with my life. Getting my foot in the (right) door, professionally-speaking, was largely a gamble that paid off; it was only once I got my initial footing that hard work and planning really came into play in terms of career advancement. Although I’m happy in my current position, I frequently wonder about “what might have been” if I was more strategic in my initial steps down the road to adulthood. It’s a lesson I intend to discuss with my son.
He’s not even 2 years old, so we don’t yet know his natural talents and abilities. As his mother, I am required to assume that he will be extraordinarily bright and capable. Is that sufficient reason to also assume that he will benefit the most from going to university? Absolutely not.
Unless his natural inclination is towards one of the degree-dependent professions that are highly-remunerated, my advice to him will be to consider the trades. Status considerations aside, a career in the trades will likely get him to financial independence faster than any “soft degree” – and that includes any non-applied science degree. The notion I will stress, which rarely receives much consideration these days, is that your job does not have to define you.
Your job is not a means of fulfillment. A job is a job. Notwithstanding the possibility of a person having a ‘true vocation’ – merely wanting to “express your creativity” doesn’t count as a vocation – a job is nothing more than a mechanism by which you earn money. Ideally, as much money as your lifestyle requirements necessitate and some extra to help you build wealth. Life – including the pursuit of pleasure, creativity, personal development, whatever – is what happens when you’re not at work. If you can’t bear the thought of putting aside those endeavours for a whole eight hours a day (or more), then you’re going to have some tough choices – if not brutal sacrifices – to make.
Here’s the thing. Jobs that are easy, fun, and non-demanding are, as required by the laws of economics, difficult to come by and poorly remunerated. It’s simple: everyone wants those jobs. There is no reason for these jobs to pay well because the supply of eligible candidates is nearly endless. By and large, jobs that pay well are jobs that few people can do and few people want to do. If your primary concern is living a comfortable, well-appointed life, those are the jobs you should focus on. And if your primary concern is an easy, fun job, then please don’t whine about how unfair it is that you can’t also have a well-appointed lifestyle. Compromises – it’s what adults do.
(Editor Joe’s Note: The aforementioned laws of economics explain why Canada has a endemic oversupply of teachers. For one year of jumping through hoops (a.k.a. a B.Ed.) almost any graduate from a Liberal Arts program can qualify for teaching — a highly paid, relatively easy job. But the majority of Teachers’ College grads can no longer get jobs because of this significant oversupply. The harshness of life in Canada’s far north, on the other hand, means almost any teacher can get a job with the sacrifice of living in a desolate, challenging environment. It’s quite telling that most would-be teachers won’t make the sacrifice of leaving their comfort zones — even though this sacrifice would mean they could practice their supposed ‘true calling’.)
In summary, and much to the probable consternation of my parents, I won’t make my son go to university in 17 years’ time. What I will do is ask him to take a significant step into adulthood by making an informed decision about his own (financial) future. The “informed” component of the decision is my responsibility as his parent.