Does Fulltime Travel Hurt a Teen’s Chance at College?

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Each week, as people subscribe to our newsletter I send them a thank-you email and ask what brought them to DitchingSuburbia.com. About half of new subscribers respond. We love hearing the hopes and dreams of like-minded people, enchanted with the idea of jumping off of the suburban hamster wheel life.

One comment has stuck in my brain this week - from a single mom considering the fulltime RV life:

(My son) is 17 and loves the idea of going on the road, but worries about his future, how he will get into a good college.

It’s a valid concern - and coming from an obviously-responsible teen thinking past his next iPhone upgrade.

Where Do Traveling Teens Go?

We launched with a 12 and 13 year old who are now 17 and 18. During our years on the road we have watched other traveling families with teens for insight. What would their kids do when they graduated?

Would colleges turn them away because they hadn’t precisely adhered to the formula of college prep classes, sports, music and community service?

In other words…have we screwed up our kids by traveling fulltime?

It’s not an easy question to answer. We can count on less than two hands the number of graduating teens that we know about. We’ve seen traveling teens launch:

  • Into the military
  • Directly into jobs
  • Then boomerang back to the family
  • Out to live with non-traveling families

Our own 18 year old isn’t immediately college-bound, so we haven’t had any conversations with colleges. We don’t really know what a college would think of his travel experience.

Is College Worth It?

MsBoyink and I followed the formula.

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Simpler Living. Closer Family. Richer Education. Uncommon Adventures.

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We got good grades in high school and did well on the standardized testing. We got into good colleges. After graduation we listed our degrees on resumes and got professional jobs.

It worked for us.

But the landscape has shifted.

Articles like this one paint a grim picture of the educational landscape:

..college tuition has increased 600% since the 1980s, student loan debt is passing one trillion dollars, half of all recent college graduates are jobless or underemployed, and 85% of the 1.8 million new grads are moving back home with their parents.PenelopeTrunk.com

Sure, that was a couple of years ago. And other articles have different numbers. But ultimately they all tell the same story. College costs have skyrocketed along with graduate debt levels. And the chances of walking directly off the graduation stage into a nice cushy office job with a 401K are lower than ever.

Colleges Are Focused on Themselves

But here’s the thing - when you ditch suburbia you begin a process of extracting yourself from the clutches of a number of cultural institutions.

  • You let go of a traditional job.
  • You remove yourself from the crazy keep-up-with-the-Joneses suburban culture.
  • You’ll find new & different ways to live your faith out - outside the traditional church.
  • Your travels may make you question even the nature of our government (does your vote really matter?).

We also look at college with new eyes. We see huge institutions with lots of real estate. We see long-standing but irrelevant traditions. We see wealthy people concerned about “prestige” rather than effectiveness. We see money and ethics laid on the altar of sports.

In short, we see a system that looks more concerned on self-preservation than the needs of its attendees.

We’re not interested in being part of that.

Having a Good Story

We’re instead betting that the experiences of almost 5 years of fulltime travel will ultimately be more valuable than a traditional high-school or homeschool high-school experience for our kids.

We think there is value in having a memorable story. A story that is different than 99% of the other people applying for a job or college entrance.

What’s That Mean For Our Grad?

I wish I could wrap up this post with a great “Our kid launched and is making his own way now without college” story.

We aren’t there yet.

He’s been working part-time at Subway and doing Little League umping. He’s earned enough money to buy his own laptop - but is still looking a bit short on launch funds.

Generally the idea is to drop him in Dayton, Ohio this fall. He intends to find lodging and work and then set about getting some traction in the acappella music industry (for which Dayton is an unlikely hotspot).

College acappella is popular there and he does want be part of that. We are coaching him to find the “minimum buy-in” necessary. So not attending college fulltime (and racking up debt) just to be involved in a campus activity, but rather see if enrolling in one 2 credit-hour class is enough.

We’ll post more about his launch as it happens.

What’s Your Take?

Are you planning to send your kids to college in the traditional fashion? Or - like us - bucking the system and betting our kids will still come out ok?

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15 Comments Does Fulltime Travel Hurt a Teen’s Chance at College?

  1. Picture of Nico VeenkampNico Veenkamp July 26, 2015

    I believe that there is a huge disconnect between what college delivers and what companies want. Add the enormous buildup of debt to that and I wonder how America will be able to compete with the rest of the world in the future.

    I know I am looking in from the outside but it amazes me.

    OTOH there are people like Chris Guillebeau who have excellent ideas on how to live your live and start your business the unconventional way. Check out his blog at http://chrisguillebeau.com/.

    He wrote a book/manual/instruction on how to start a business with low investment. It’s called the $100 startup. It has some interesting ideas on how to start your own company. Maybe it’s something for your family. Info at http://100startup.com/

    I follow his annual review series to better plan and manage my live. What he does is some really outside the box thinking.

    Take care.

    Nico

  2. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink July 26, 2015

    Harrison started that book this past week..;)

  3. Picture of JenniJenni July 26, 2015

    I don’t really know if we are intentionally bucking the system as we have yet to see if any of our kids will go to college.  What we do know is this:  we are training them up in the way THEY should go.  Not the way society says they ought to simply because it’s how we all did it 20 years ago.  Ultimately, if my kids can live a life that glorifies God by living for someone other than themselves, we will be happy.  And that may or may not require a degree.  We ourselves are perfect examples.  To work for EMI as a Project Leader Kevin absolutely needed his engineering degree.  But very little of what I got in school positioned me well to be the EMI staff photographer.  We look at that and feel that since only God knows anyone’s future, we have to make decisions and set goals based on what He reveals today.  For now that means we just keep trying to ask the right questions, get the ideas rolling in their heads, give them the tools and confidence, and trust God to shut us down or speak clearly if we are headed in the wrong direction. 

    Not that we don’t have occasional panic attacks…

  4. Picture of Sue SalSue Sal July 26, 2015

    Since we did not follow the traveling family path, my opinion probably does not matter, but I am very, very glad that three out of our four have college degrees and great jobs.  Of those three, only one had debt and it was from law school, not college.

    Every family is different.

  5. Picture of allan branchallan branch July 27, 2015

    It’s silly to think an 18-20 year old should decide their career path for the next 35 years.

  6. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink July 27, 2015

    @allan - agreed!  I started at one college at 17 (turned 18 in the first semester), lasted a semester and a half, bailed and came home to work for 2 years.

    That time was critical…after working a lot of crap jobs I went back to college much more motivated.

  7. Picture of allan branchallan branch July 27, 2015

    @michael i changed my major 3 times and went to 4 colleges. I have 190+ credit hours and no degree. Thankfully I only left college with $10k in debt because I kept a job and had scholarships (football + later academic).

    If you can read and comprehend, talk to people, sell yourself and ask for money you can create your own job and don’t need college…but you already know that. ;)

  8. Picture of HuckHuck July 27, 2015

    I’m intrigued by the MOOC concept.  Potentially these can attract the BEST professors in the world and a huge support community thereby giving a top notch educational experience.  Places like TeamTreeHouse have worked with industry to make sure when you finish their program (with relatively very little cash and time investment) you’re primed to get a job writing code for someone…maybe even in some hip San Fran office space where you ride skateboards in the office, have nap pods and fridges full of free Red Bull.  And if you decide you hate that job….no big woop because it didn’t cost that much time or money.  You now know what you DON’T want to do…that’s worth a lot.  And you were making a decent living while you tried it out.  Brick and mortar institutions will probably never go away, but I think MOOCs are going to take a good share of students from them.

  9. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink July 27, 2015

    @huck Your intrigue with MOOCs is well-deserved. I think they are but one facet of an impending hammer swinging down to pop the bubble of traditional college in America.

    Other facets are educational startups like http://www.saxifrageschool.org/ and http://www.wayfindingacademy.org/.

    We’re watching all of these with interest.

  10. Picture of HuckHuck July 27, 2015

    Oooo….I like the Wayfinding Academy!  Lots to learn by getting your hands dirty and just doing something….creating something…helping someone.  Experiences are super high value.

  11. Picture of Asher and Journey's MomAsher and Journey's Mom July 27, 2015

    My kids are only 4yrs old, so my opinions are subject to change. I don’t plan on pushing college. I don’t believe in starting life in a tremendous amount of debt as many kids do these days. I will encourage my kids to find a profession that will be interesting and enjoyable for them. Preferably one that qualifies them thru a technical/certificate program like ultrasound tech, medical billing, etc. I can justify the cost of that when they’ll be finished and earning a decent wage in a relatively short amount of time.
    I agree that long term travel is a huge benefit for our kids, makes them well rounded and an asset in the job market.

  12. Picture of Kimberly Travaglino Kimberly Travaglino July 27, 2015

    As someone with a college degree, I vacillate back and forty on its effectiveness. If my full time RV kids want to go to college, I’m sure there’s an institution out there who will be happy to take their tuition dollars.
    I hope, thru this journey, my kids aim higher than the cubicle and view money as a tool. I sincerely hope they seek there own form of success as that’s what we’ve been modeling for them all their lives.

  13. Picture of kevinkevin July 30, 2015

    There are so many options :)

    1)  CLEP tests - while he’s fresh out of home schooling, a lot of that knowledge is fresh. CLEP (clep.collegeboard.org)  tests may be about $50 for the test and a bit for prep. But I know someone who completed almost all of a BA with Clep tests and online Univ (in 18 months).  An average full-time college year is 24-30 units - taking 10 clep tests will be 30 units at $500ish and study time (flexible study time) And you can apply many of those to many colleges. Some online colleges will accept most or all.

    2)  Online University - much cheaper - accept life experience and CLEP tests, etc.
    Thomas Edison State College (NJ, no residency), Excelsior, Charters Oak - should all be possible options.


    3) once you have a BA, you’ve got time and units under your belt. Now - if you discover a passion that requires a degree, there’s probably a masters program for it and a masters program will be shorter, more concentrated, and less impacted than a bachelors. And having a masters gives you an advantage in the work force in hiring and pay.

    4) if he’s learned to live with less over the last 5 years, then as a single guy, he won’t need to make more than a couple thousand a month to live (rent, gas, insurances, food, utils, fun) - learning to make that income as an entrepreneur will have so much more value (learn and start a house painting biz, cleaning pools in the summer, organizing tutoring services, learning to write apps,  learning direct sales, )  just wild ideas. But when you don’t need a lot of money, you have a lot of options if you’re willing to put in the effort. Assuming he won’t be practicing 8 hours a day, he’s got a lot of availability to work, and a lot of flexibility.  $500/week, $100/day - that’s not hard to do if you’re willing to do it. Learning new things/skills and perseverance are good qualities to learn - as is ‘just do something’ .
    A regular job @ $10/hr minus taxes won’t get you $100/day. but lining up 2-3 house painting jobs (with friends) should net him more than enough to live on from 10days of work a month.  25 pools (2-3 days of work/week) , these types of things require people skills, manual labor, and they allow time to study, play, and pursue a real passion.


    It’s fun to think of the options for the future when you’re young, invincible and willing to take risks, but there are practical things that can be done right along side that allow you to not miss out because you pursued your dreams.

    Exciting times! :)

  14. Picture of ReginaRegina September 19, 2016

    I come from the viewpoint of a first generation college attender, BS degree and mother of a child on the verge of having to make critical career decisions.  I am a STRONG believer in no debt, as that makes you a slave to whatever job you have.  It also takes many mothers away from their desire of staying home with their children while they are young due to the debt load.  I grew up seeing how my blue collar father was laid off during many difficult times.  I knew what it was like to not be able to afford more than dried milk and noodles for a meal.

    My father had to work out in adverse weather and sometimes away from his family.  He told us that we were smart, so go to college and get a better job and do better than what he could do.  I believe there was a golden time where that wisdom was true. 

    However, I saw the results of having the self-discipline to get that 4 year degree.  After 4+ years of challenging course work, a person is rewarded with debt,  stress, long hours, accusations due to the managerial position, and a job that significantly ages a person.  They are a slave to the company with little legal protection compared to that of blue collar workers.  The real kicker was when I realized factory workers actually got paid more, hour for hour, with no debt, no stress, no responsibility and more time for family outside the job. 

    With such a demand for tradesman type of jobs, why would I push my child into a 4 year school?  As my grandpa told me, “If you are happy as a ditch digger, by God, be a ditch digger.  Life is too short.” 

    With all that aside, a seminar I recently attended told of how colleges are going away from the ACT and SAT scores.  They are realizing that good test takers may not actually be the leaders of tomorrow.  they may be able to take a test, but could they communicate?  Often not.  Colleges actually prefer the “homeschooling diploma” and are looking for people who have self initative, are well-rounded, and give back to society.  Traveling- What a great way for a well-rounded education?  What a natural way to learn how to talk with all kinds of people?

  15. Picture of Michael BoyinkMichael Boyink September 20, 2016

    Thanks Regina!

    Update on our son - he left our traveling home in 9/2015 and took a factory job assembling office chairs. He’s been there almost a year already has seniority as turnover on his line has been high. He still has other ideas for the future that change almost daily..but he seems plugged in and happy where he’s at for now.

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