Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski is the founder and director of the Washington Health System Teen Outreach. She responds to 6–8 questions from young people daily and has written 'Ask Mary Jo' since 2005.

Q. I got into the college of my choice. My first choice. My parents are thrilled. I even have a nice scholarship.

What do I do if I’ve decided I don’t want to go to college anymore?

Any college?

I can’t stand the idea of studying four years more. I’m afraid my family would be devastated if I don’t go. I’m the first person on both sides to be accepted into college. I love my family and I don’t want to disappoint them, but I think it would be worse if I go to college and live a lie. How should I tell them?

18 year old

Mary Jo’s response: Congratulations on your achievement. It’s not easy to get into the college of your choice or obtain a scholarship.

Living a lie isn’t wise. You are worthy of your own choices in life. I honor your concern for your family. Considering their feelings shows empathy and respect for them. I honor you.

I’d like to ask you a few questions. I hope your responses will help you clarify your thoughts. There are pros and cons to every life decision. Be honest with yourself. You will need to explain your feelings to your family, so thinking them through before you approach your parents is important.

1. Who is most invested in you attending college, you or your family? Often young people strive to fulfil parents’ dreams without prioritizing their own. Think back. Where did your initial drive to apply for college originate?

2. When did you begin questioning your plans? We are mind, body and spirit – Mr. Rogers often said we are “all one piece.” Applying to college and seeking a scholarship took time and effort. What motivated you to invest in a college education? What changed?

3. When you picture yourself at college, what do you see? Life is lived one day at a time. Projecting four years of attendance can be frightening. You mention the idea of four more years of studying. Those years progress in small bites. Are you weary from high school classes?

4. How do you learn best? The pandemic changed your senior year. You persevered and will graduate, but your education wasn’t typical. Do you hesitate about taking on more education because learning virtually is challenging for you?

5. What do you want from attending college? Do you feel a degree will prepare you for a career that will bring you joy?

6. Examine your goals. Time passes. Where do you see yourself at the end of four years if you don’t attend college?

7. How do you feel? Are you frightened? Do you feel pressured? I wonder how much you feel responsible for your family’s happiness. What would make you happy?

8. Have you considered taking a gap year? Learning is lifelong. It’s possible to put off college for a year, but your scholarship may be in jeopardy. Have you explored this option?

9. Have you thought about giving college a try? One semester isn’t a big commitment. College is more than studying. You may find the social aspect enjoyable, as well as the independence.

10. Does another path appeal to you? There are many excellent ways to move on after high school. Would a trade school prepare you for the life you seek? Are you interested in the military? Do you want to join the workforce? Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Once you’ve answered these questions, find time to speak with your parents. Ideally you will select a moment when your parents are free to talk without distraction and are not stressed. Be kind and respectful. Be honest.

You are a person of worth with or without a college degree.

Peer educator response: We would have a hard time telling our parents the same thing. Sometimes it’s easier to just do what your parents want than to stand up for what you really want. That’s not OK for you. In the long run, it’s not fair to your parents either. They’ll be investing a lot of money in something you won’t use. We think you should find a time to talk openly about your feelings.

Have a question? Send it to Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski’s email

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