Parents: University is not the only road to success

Ivory towers are not the only – or even necessarily the best – options for our kids’ financial futures.

I’ve always assumed that my son will go to university someday, even though he’s only entering fifth grade this September. Lately, though, I’ve been questioning where that assumption comes from, and why it seems to be one that most Canadian parents share. Why do we have this bias for university when there are so many other ways to achieve financial success and lead a contented life?

I was reminded of this not too long ago when a friend posted on Facebook how proud she was of her son, a recent high school graduate, for being accepted into a coveted electrician’s apprenticeship program. My reaction was pretty much what you would expect — that’s awesome! And yeah, darn right she should be proud. It’s hard to imagine he’ll ever need to take a job as a Starbucks barista to earn a living, unlike some of his university-bound contemporaries.

A week or two later, a writer friend and colleague was telling me how his 20-something daughter found her new job. She was out at a street concert in Toronto, and spotted a help-wanted sign across the road at a funeral home. She had just completed training as a funeral director — a career she decided to pursue after obtaining a science degree from a large university, although a degree is not a prerequisite for the training program. She figured she’d go in and inquire about the position, and walked out the door with the job of her dreams. 

Granted, she had a bit of luck on her side in terms of the timing, but when was the last time you heard of anyone being hired for skilled work from a public ad, let alone one posted in a window? On the contrary, the news is filled with reports of university-educated young adults who pound the pavement, network and work in unpaid internships for months or even years just to land an entry-level job that pays.

Some will argue that university was never meant to lead to gainful employment; that it’s solely about the pursuit of knowledge. Perhaps. But when individuals, or their families, are left to foot a five-figure bill for higher education, you have to question that premise — or at least its feasibility for most students.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking university. I have a degree in journalism and I’ve never regretted going that route. And university is obviously the right choice for many students and their potential careers. But, I do think as parents we may need to challenge our assumptions about university being the best or only option for our kids’ success.

Keep the conversation going

Do you think a university degree is a necessity in today’s economy? Would you advise your children to consider other options when they graduate high school? Post a comment below.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of CPA Canada.

About the Author

Tamar Satov

Managing Editor, CPA magazine
Tamar is a journalist specializing in business, parenting and personal finance. She blogs regularly in this space with advice and anecdotes on her efforts to raise a money-smart kid.