People are fond of holding up billionaire Bill Gates and others as examples of what “a college dropout” can accomplish. A closer look at these “dropouts” reveals that they were born with above-average intelligence and and were blessed with supportive parents.
Bill Gates , the son of an attorney and a schoolteacher, grew up in ideal conditions. He was intelligent to begin with, and well-nourished and cared for in his early years.
He most certainly began first grade with a vocabulary far broader than that of six-year-olds from less educated families.
Before dropping out, Gates spent two years in the intellectually stimulating environment of Harvard where he came to realize that the new computer technology was the area that most interested him as a career. No university programs of study even existed in this area in the 1970s.
At the time Bill Gates left college, he was better educated than college graduates who scrape through the whole four years partying as much as they can, and studying only enough to pass their courses.
Bill Gates is an example of the kind of adult that good genes, a good home, effective secondary education, native intelligence, imagination, and a sense of worth can produce.
Most children lack one or more of these advantages.
The decision to send a high school graduate to college ought to be made according to the needs, purpose, and readiness of the individual.
Many young people go to college because it’s “the thing to do.” They want to be like their peers. They don’t want to disappoint their parents. They don’t have any clear idea of what they want to do as a means of making a living. They’d rather go to school than get a job.
High school grads who go to college for reasons like these shouldn’t go.
At least not directly out of high school.
Regardless of how intelligent they are, high school graduates who don’t know what they want to do would benefit by taking at least a year off from academics. Instead of enrolling with “an undeclared major,” they could join the Peace Corps or Americorps, or take a job on a freighter or a cruise ship.
They could go to work for a temp agency in a big city, or join a circus, or travel the national parks working in park facilities. After a year or so of such diverse experience, most would know, if not what they want to do with their lives, at least what they don’t want to do.
A university education is not for everyone, even if the parents can afford it.
Ideally, high schools would provide quality vocational training, beginning with the eighth grade. They would graduate eighteen-year-olds ready to begin work as hospital aides, carpenter’s assistants, bank tellers, and office assistants.
School counselors could show more respect for post-secondary vocational education.
Brain-washing all children into thinking that they must go to a four-year college after high school does them a disservice.
A much better plan is for parents of young children to nurture them in love and safety, providing them with language and responsibility, and encouraging them to develop their interests and abilities. If they want to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, or any of the professions that require a university education, help them prepare.
If they find academics difficult or simply uninteresting, encourage them to pursue what they do find interesting and satisfying. Too many college freshmen whose talents lie elsewhere suffer unnecessary misery and humiliation by enrolling in academic programs to please their parents.