Care and Feeding

My Son Is Making a Choice That Could Ruin the Rest of His Life

Should I try to stop him, or let him decide?

A laptop with a graduation cap on it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by kreinick/Getty Images Plus. 

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Our son “Mark” is a junior in high school, which is about the time we started kicking the college search into gear with his older sister. We’d planned to do the same with him. But he’s not interested. He wants to attend a coding certificate course or “bootcamp” instead. On the one hand, I understand: My brother makes a good living as an electrician without having gone to college, and Mark is a B/C student with interests and abilities outside of school that are meaningful to him, so maybe traditional college wouldn’t be right for him. And we’d be able to help him with only half of his college costs, so he’d probably have some debt after he graduated. On the other hand, it’s not clear what kind of long-term career prospects a bootcamp could offer him in our area, where tech seems very competitive, and a lot of tech companies have been busted for scam behavior.

I’m also concerned that his wanting to pursue this path might be the result of nothing more than his determination to be different from his full-scholarship sister, and that a lot of what he says about college boils down to “it’s a debt scam” and “it’s set up to give women advantages over men.” Such ideas all seem to come from the internet, and I’m worried that he hasn’t thought any of this through and that his plan won’t work when it comes to the real job market. Do I push him toward community college? Drag him to a state school he insists is designed to land him in debt? Somehow vet a coding bootcamp?

—Coding or College?

Dear Coding or College,

Whatever Mark’s reasons for not wanting to go to college, pushing him or dragging him is a terrible idea. Coding bootcamp may indeed be the right path for him (and it’s not that hard to vet them—I checked). A good one isn’t cheap, but many of them offer deferred tuition based on job placement or an income-sharing arrangement. (Read up on the differences, and make sure Mark does, too.) The bottom line is that this is his life, not yours, so it’s his decision to make. Will it be a mistake? Will he be sorry he didn’t go to college? Maybe. Luckily, there’s a remedy for that, since the opportunity to attend college doesn’t evaporate if one doesn’t avail oneself of it right after high school graduation.

If what this comes down to is that you don’t feel comfortable funding the startup cost of his attending a bootcamp, or supporting him in other ways while he pursues this plan—for example, allowing him to continue to live with you while he does—you are of course free to tell him that he’ll have to find full-time work and earn the money himself. But since this is a legitimate path to a career, as a coder if not as a software engineer, and you would have been willing to help pay for the cost of his college education, it seems to me that offering your support would be a good faith gesture. And demonstrating to our children that we have faith in them is pretty much always a good idea.

—Michelle

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