I loved college. I loved the campus, I loved the dorms, and I loved the challenging classes (well, most of them). College was a great experience for me, and once I began having children, it was something I wanted for them, too. I assumed they would feel the same way. But as my oldest reached her mid-teens, she decided that college was not for her.
At first I thought she would change her mind, and so I geared her work toward college preparatory subjects, and required her to take the PSAT and ACT. She scored above average on both tests. Soon college brochures and catalogs filled our mailbox, but none of them changed her mind.
Her dream was to work and be on her own. She felt that going to college was a way of delaying adulthood, and she was eager to be an adult. She had dreams of travel, and eventually getting her own place to live. She had been very independent, even as a small child, and that trait grew stronger as she approached her late teens.
I kept thinking that maybe we should just sign her up somewhere. I thought if she went away to school and lived with other girls her age, she would change her mind and enjoy her surroundings. But my husband felt that there was no point in sending an unmotivated student.
As I grew to accept the inevitability of the situation, teaching only college preparatory subjects felt all wrong. Why study subjects she had no interest in, like a foreign language or chemistry, if she wasn’t going to need them for college? All she could talk about was how she was going to move to this city or that city. Some of her plans were very impractical because she had no idea of what it would cost to live on her own. Her naive talk started to make me a little nervous.
I closely studied my large collection of homeschool catalogs, hoping to find resources we could use for her last year of homeschooling. But it seemed like most products were geared toward the college-bound student, and those that remained focused on cooking and sewing. She already knew how to cook and sew. I was more concerned about how she would handle credit cards and whether she really understood how much it would cost her to feed and house herself. If she didn’t want a degree, she would likely have to live on a modest income. (How times have changed!)
I decided to design sensible projects for her. So, in addition to Math Review, Shakespeare, Bible, History and Expository Writing, each week she had to research different aspects of living on her own. She compared rents in different cities, and interviewed insurance agents, landlords and utility companies. She asked many questions and got many answers.
Soon we branched out to subjects she would need to know about before she got her first full-time job. She learned about health insurance (a must, as our health insurance would not cover her once she turned 19 unless she attended college full-time). She learned about taxes and withholding, budgeting and even mortgages. She educated herself about every aspect of buying a car, and the pros and cons of car loans.
I noticed that as she completed the projects*, her naive plans slowly turned into more logical ones. By the time she finished homeschooling, I felt that she was well-prepared for independence. She started studying different cities on her own. She researched and bought her first car, for which she paid cash, because she understood just how much interest a car loan would have cost her. And she didn’t move out as soon as she turned 18, as she’d always said she would, because now she really understood that she couldn’t afford it.
Instead, she saved up a portion of her pay, and she now has a good-sized savings account. She is nearly 20, and will soon move into a city apartment with two other young women. We will miss her, but we see how excited she is about living on her own, and we are thankful that she is prepared for it.
Walking through the preparation process with her taught me a lot, too. I learned to listen to what she was really saying instead of expecting her to want what I wanted for her. I saw how prepared she could become with the right training. And now I get to see her try her wings as she leaves the nest.
Author note: Since I wrote this article almost ten years ago, my daughter has lived in three large Midwestern cities. She now owns two Internet businesses and, unlike many of her peers, is enjoying the debt-free life.
* The projects are in my book Life Prep for Homeschooled Teenagers.