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College Bound?

Sort 302 talks about the plans, purpose, and potential, in a 20 year-old niece.

by Dear Jon
March 22, 2005

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ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon:
My niece, 20 years old, did well in high school but has little interest in college, preferring to be a nanny and hoping to get married. She actually tried one semester of college and said she loved it, but she doesn't like taking tests or writing papers, and she thinks college costs too much. Many of us family members would like to see her stay in college. Do you have any advice for any of us?

Signed,
Living in an Uncertain World
 
Dear Uncertain,
 
Apparently you read Sort 301, in which I reminded a letter writer that this is an “Advice Column.” So you sent me a SERIOUS letter, asking for something like “advice” on a matter of actual importance. And now I have to come through, or else it will look like I have just been blowing smoke all along.
 
On the other hand, many of my millions of fans look forward to Dear Jon to be funny. They like to laugh at Dear Jon’s advice, and I’m still not sure how to take that. So, what I need to do, is be completely serious, and let Dear Jon readers THINK I’m being funny. For this letter, that won’t be hard to do, since my serious advice will sound extremely contrarian to the social and cultural assumptions currently in vogue, and I won’t even have to resort to sarcasm at your expense.
 
What strikes me is that you are writing about your “niece.” Not your daughter, not even your sister. She did not write to Dear Jon herself, and neither did either of her parents. So my gut-level first response is “mind your own business.”
 
If you are concerned that your niece is wasting her potential, I’ve got news for you. The most tragic cases I have seen for wasted potential, are those that completed their college degrees without having a clue as to why. They had no vision for their adult life; they had no dreams that they were chasing. They went to college hoping to discover their dreams, or hoping that dreams others had for them would somehow materialize in their own hearts, or they weren’t hoping for much of anything. For too many students, college is just part of going through the motions.
 
I have seen too many college-educated adults floundering and directionless into their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. They hold odd jobs. They live with their parents. They wonder why they aren’t hooking up and getting married, embarking on a career, establishing their reputation, anchoring their community, or whatever we mean by the term growing up.
 
Maybe you want your niece to go to college because you have a plan for your niece. It seems to you that the heart she brings to Nanny skills would make her an excellent Registered Nurse with a Bachelor of Science degree. That sounds like a great plan. But it isn’t hers.
 
College degrees do not make for a successful grown-up. Nothing makes for a successful grown-up like having goals, and it sounds like your niece has goals. Her goals are:
 
1. Be a Nanny.
2. Get married.
 
What is it about these goals that you find objectionable? These goals are obtainable, realistic, and responsible. She is not looking forward to living in her mother’s basement while she postpones responsibility. Too many parents have found truth in Bill Cosby’s axiom: “Liberal education qualifies your adult child to come back home.”
 
In fact, she is willing to take the risks that are entailed from assuming responsibility for the children of others. And, she wants to get married. There are a lot of ways she can attain that goal. To meet eligible men, it might mean involvement in the city’s dance-club scene, or, what might be your preference and is certainly mine, it might mean involvement in her local church’s Sunday School Class for Single Adults. Either way, if she is twenty and her goal is to get married, she will probably achieve it within one to four years.
 
And that is so bad…why? How many college-degreed adults fall into marriage as something else to do, still in that fruitless search to find a purpose for living? How many marriages fail because one or both partners never really had a vision for their own lives?
 
Good grief, your niece has purpose! She has real goals! These goals are productive!
 
She has a lot of facts on her side. College does cost too much, and the work she must do to succeed in college is not work that she enjoys. It takes more than brains to make it through college. I have known tremendously bright people who simply wanted to have nothing to do with the collegiate environment. They are intelligent, even reaching honor roll in high school and being actively recruited by colleges, but they are not “college material.” If your niece is self-selecting herself out of college at this time, it is a reflection of a deeper maturity and vision of self, and it is to her credit.
 
Now you are convinced that Dear Jon is a jerk. But wait, Auntie, you have the secret that your niece does not yet possess. Your secret is that your niece is still very, very young. If your niece is college material in fact, that realization will come to her with time. She will go to college when she is ready. She will be ready when she sees how a college education will help her to complete her vision of self and meet her goals, because her goals will have changed and grown along with her self.
 
College means so much more to the students who want to be there, then it does to the ones who have been directed into college by others. When she does go back to college with motive and ambition, she will soar. That is the secret for Auntie and Uncle and Mom and Dad to treasure in their hearts.

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