How to tell your parents you’re not going to university

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So you know in your heart that going to university isn’t for you. You’ve considered your options and decided to take a different path. Maybe you’re pursuing a vocational qualification whilst earning at the same time, learning on the job or studying remotely whilst travelling the world. Maybe you’re not sure exactly what you want to do yet but you just know that university isn’t the pathway for you.

The only thing standing in the way of celebrating your decision is telling your parents.

You know they want you to go to university because they believe you need to “get a good degree” so you can get a decent job. You know that they want the best for you but they’re just not open to other options.

And you’re absolutely terrified of telling them that it isn’t for you. Maybe you think you’ll be disappointing them and that they might not support you, or that they won’t agree with you and try and force you to go to university.

I know exactly how you feel, because when I was finishing college I knew university wasn’t for me. I couldn’t find a course I liked, and I just wanted to see the world, travel and earn some money.

I had to find a way to tell my parents that working in a supermarket and saving to travel was what I wanted to do. Thankfully they were supportive but it was so hard plucking up the courage to have that conversation.

So how on Earth do you tell your parents about your decision? Let me share some tips with you:

Build your case

Most parents just want to know that their child isn’t making a rash decision they’ll regret. So before you even talk to them about your decision, make sure you’ve written down all the reasons why you’re not going to university and what you’re choosing to do instead and why.

Build your case, so you can show your parents that you’ve thought this through fully. They’ll find it hard to object to a well thought-out decision.

Consider their objections

Why do they want you to go to university so much? Is it because it’s family tradition or your siblings have gone before you? Is it because they don’t know what other options are available? Before you talk to them, try and step into their shoes and think through their reasoning. It’ll make it so much easier for you to understand their point of view and share your decision in a way that they can understand.

When you do tell them, acknowledge their objections but give reasons as to why you’re doing something different. Show them the benefits of your route and how excited you are about it.

Find a good time to tell them

If you know your folks are going to flip when you tell them university isn’t for you, you need to pick a good time and place for the conversation. Don’t just drop it on them as you head out the door, or announce it on Facebook before you’ve had the chance to sit down with them.

It’s often good to have a conversation like this around the dinner table. It’s neutral ground and makes you all equal physically which helps keep the conversation equal.

When the time feels right, tell them you want to talk to them about something important to you. If you think you’re going to put it off, tell them in the morning that you want to talk to them later that day – that way you can’t chicken out.

Lead the conversation

It’s important to show your parents that you’re firm in your decision. So, make sure you lead the conversation. A good way to do this is to start by saying:

“I’ve got something I want to talk over with you and I’d like to explain it first before you give me you opinion. Is that ok with you?”

That way, if they interrupt, you can remind them that they agreed to let you talk first.

Ask them for support, even if they don’t agree with you

If they’re really unhappy about your choice, tell them that you understand why, but that this is what you’re doing and even if they don’t agree you need and want their support. Ask them to give you the chance to explore it and find out if its right or wrong for yourself.

Be open to possibilities

Although I actively encourage you to stay firm in your decision, no matter how your parents take the news, I would suggest being open to possibilities. Whatever choice you commit to now, remember that you may change your mind or choose a different pathway in time. You should always do what feels right for you, and not worry about what anybody else thinks if you take another route or deviate from your original plan.

And remember, at the end of the day, your parents just want you to be happy, and enter adulthood with some security and an ability to support yourself. Acknowledge how lucky you are to have parents that care so much about your welfare and if all the above fails, tell them that you know they want the best for you, and the decision you’ve made is what’s right and will make you happiest.

Even if they don’t come around to your way of thinking straight away, it’s hard for them to argue with your choice to be happy.

Leave a Comment

Answer one or more of the following questions in the comments below and share your story with us:

  • Have you decided not to go to university?
  • How have you told, or are planning to tell your parents?
  • What are you choosing to do instead?


Jen Smith coaches entrepreneurs in social media.

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