My son isn’t interested in going to college. How can we change his mind?

Ask Brian: Step back and give him space and time to figure out his own pathway

If your son has no desire to go directly from school to college, step back and let him figure out his next move. Photograph: iStock

If your son has no desire to go directly from school to college, step back and let him figure out his next move. Photograph: iStock

 

Neither my husband nor I had the opportunity to go to college, although we both have good jobs. Our eldest son is sitting the Leaving Cert in June but isn’t interested in applying for CAO courses. I’d like him to have the opportunities we never had. How can we motivate him to apply?

Encouraging your son to aspire to participate in higher education is in his best interest and he will appreciate your encouragement at some stage, if not now.

What is also self-evidently true is that every person travels a unique pathway in life and the benefits of a third-level degree programme will be fully utilised only when a student is interested and committed to the course in question.

It is a reflection on the journey that Ireland has travelled in the 50 years since I did the Leaving Cert until today that we have moved from a place where it was simply an end-of-school exam to one where it is seen primarily in terms of a student’s results, expressed in CAO points.

Back in 1971 – when I sat the exam – a minority progressed to third level. In fact, any student who secured 55 per cent in two higher level papers could secure a place in most university programmes. The universities also ran their own entrance matriculation exams.

Nowadays, most students progress to third level. The positive side of society’s expectation that more school leavers will progress to college every year can be seen in the advances that Ireland has made both socially and economically, set in motion by the introduction of free second-level education in the late 1960s. The negative side can be seen in the perception of failure for those who don’t follow this pathway directly to university from sixth year.

It can also be seen in the statistics of the considerable number of students who drop out of their courses in the initial months or fail to progress beyond first year and never return.

If your son has no desire to go directly from school to college, step back and give him space and time to figure out his own pathway into adult life.

He may very wisely decide to take a one-year further education programme to consolidate his knowledge in one particular subject discipline, be it in the sciences, business, law, and so on, and secure entry to college on the basis of that award.

Alternatively, he may choose to start his post Leaving Cert journey in one of the more than 60 “earn and learn” apprenticeship programmes offered through Solas, many of which lead to degree awards.

He may even choose to seek employment while he figures out where his passions lie. Right now, trust his instincts and give him space to figure it out for himself.