School Update

Ralph & Maude What to Wear 2014-1503

Here we are, finishing up another school year. We still have 3 weeks to go — our last day of school is June 12th. (Side note: School after Memorial Day always seems so challenging to me — it feels like summer vacation should start now!). June will be going to Kindergarten next year. Betty will go to 4th grade. Oscar to 5th grade. Olive will go to 8th grade. Maude will be a junior in high school. And Ralph was going to start his senior year. He was. But instead: he’s offically done with high school!

This came as quite a surprise to us. Here’s how it happened.

You may remember he spent his Freshman year in France attending a local French school. And he spent the first half of this school year (his Junior year) in France as well, enrolled in California Virtual Academy (which is a K12 online school). He arrived home for Christmas, and then went to Haiti with Ben Blair in January. When he got home from Haiti, we asked him if he wanted to continue doing online school, or re-enroll in the same high school he attended his sophomore year (the same school Maude attends). But he surprised us by saying he wanted to finish high school early.

Last year, one of his best friends had finished high school early by taking the CHSPE (pronounced chess-pea), which is essentially the California GED. And she’d started college at CalArts instead of attending her senior year. Ralph thought that path sounded amazing.

We were open to the idea, but wanted to learn more about it. What would happen if Ralph took the CHSPE? How would that change his college applications? How would it change his already unusual transcript? So, at the end of January, we called in a local college advisor — a consultant that helps families through the college application process — and we learned that taking the CHSPE changes things a lot.

When we talked with the counselor and told him about Ralph’s high school experience — good grades, lots of extra curricular, but one year in French school, one year in Oakland high school, and one year in California online school. We explained that we’d had a hard time transferring all his different credits into one seamless transcript. It’s not impossible to do, but because we were new to Oakland when we first inquired about it, and didn’t know the right people to talk to, and also because we simply didn’t have enough time to commit to the red-tape involved, we hadn’t been able to make it happen. We hadn’t given up on transferring the credits, but with Ralph wanting to finish early, we weren’t even sure if we should proceed.

The advisor said we had 3 good options:

1) We could enroll Ralph in a good private school in our area for the remaining half of his junior year, and his senior year. A private school would be able to evaluate what Ralph has learned, and translate all of his different credits into one transcript that would be easy to use for college applications. He told us that in theory, our public schools could help us do this, but that in California, public schools are so challenged for resources that it would be nearly impossible to get this done. (I’m guessing the difficulty depends on the school district.)

2) The second option would be to ignore Ralph’s transcript and instead, use AP (Advanced Placement) and IB (International Baccalaureate) subject tests to show college application boards Ralph’s academic qualifications. Basically, Ralph would take the SAT, and then as many AP and IB subject tests as he could make time to study for to show that he can do college-level work. Then college boards could focus on his test scores when evaluating his application and not even look at his transcript.

3) The third option was taking the CHSPE. If Ralph took and passed the CHSPE, he would be officially done with high school. And he wouldn’t need to take the SAT or ACT. But, applying to universities wouldn’t really be an option. Instead he would go straight to community college. There, he could do a two-year program, then transfer to one of the California universities to finish his degree.

Ralph & Maude What to Wear 2014-1535

Ralph was definitely the most interested in option number 3. But Ben Blair and I had a million questions: can he transfer to a university after one year? Answer: Apparently, no. The transfer programs are based on two-years in community college. How expensive is community college? Answer: Umm. Super, super affordable! Especially compared to UC tuition. What about Cal Arts — how did his friend start immediately at CalArts? Answer: Turns out CalArts is a private university and they have some non-traditional entrance options.

I also had a big question for Ralph. I figured he might like attending community college the first year, when his peers were still in high school, but would he be bummed out when they went to their dream universities and he still had another year of community college? Also, would Ralph be sad to be missing his senior year and all the traditions that go with it?

But Ralph was 100% excited about the community college plan. Mostly, he was just ready to be done with high school, and also, because it was like a major bonus when he realized he could bypass the ACT and SAT, and build his video portfolio instead of preparing for a test.

So Ralph prepped for the CHSPE with a tutor for about 6 weeks and then he took the test in March (it’s only offered twice a year). At the end of April, he found out he’d passed. Which means: he’s officially done with high school! Since then, we were afraid he would be bored with all of his other siblings still in school. But it turns out he’s had a ton of work. He’s been busy taking on video jobs, being a camp counselor, teaching iMovie classes to teens, and working on Olive Us as well.

And this fall, instead of his senior year, he’ll be enrolling in community college. Luckily, we have 5 great community colleges in our area. He’s looking at computer animation classes and typography classes, and advanced video editing.

As parents, we’re delighted he has a solid plan for moving forward. And the more we learn about community college options, the more excited we are. Ralph hasn’t even started yet and Ben Blair has already become a community college advocate.  Many of the schools have a focus on trade skills (like learning Photoshop, or accounting), and the teachers often have full-time careers in their field. For example, a computer animation class might be taught by an animator from Pixar. The price is also super encouraging. For reference, the cost of tuition for a year is essentially equivalent to our family’s cell-phone bill over two months. If you transfer to a university after two years, it’s like getting a university degree at half the cost! Suddenly we’re wondering if community college should be the plan for all of our kids.

So Ralph’s current plan is to do two years of community college, then transfer to a university to get his degree. Right now he is interested in Cal Berkeley and UCLA, so he’s talking with people who have transferred to those schools from community college, but he knows that his options hinge on how he does at community college.

Since Ben’s PhD is philosophy of education, I put extra weight on his thoughts about this new path, and I’m feeling more assured since he’s so into it. One of the big things he references is Ralph’s sophomore year. Ralph earned excellent grades, took hard classes, participated in marching band and jazz band, and theater too (he won Best Performer of the year!). But in order to do all of that, he stayed up super late pretty much every night, was constantly stressed out, and we hardly saw him. Even before Ralph chose this new path, the idea that he would be that stressed for 3 years in order to go straight into a good university was already feeling wrong.

I still have regrets about my college career because I was a pretty high-achieving high schooler, and  when I started college, I was burned out on school. So knowing there’s an option for teens, where they can learn what they need to learn to finish high school, but not have to be super anxious about grades or standardized tests, feels like a godsend.

Ralph & Maude What to Wear 2014-1521

I can tell you I also have a funny feeling like we’ve suddenly gone off script. The “script” was: check out colleges as a junior, apply in the fall of senior year, graduate, then head to university the next fall. Maude is still following that script. (And every time she’s stressed out by the burden of her AP classes, I wonder why in the world I’m clinging to this script so tightly.) But with Ralph, we’ve now taken a new path, and I’m feeling like I need a new script, a new roadmap. (Side note: For me, the script sort of ends at college, because there are so many variables at that point. Length of universtiy depends on what they study, where they study and how they study. They may want to do graduate work, or go on a mission, or study abroad, or get married. Who knows? So I guess our script for Ralph is just ending a bit early.)

The other thing we didn’t expect, but that has been fascinating, is that the more people we tell about the community college plan, the more we hear about people taking non-traditional approaches to college. It makes me wonder how the college experience will change from the time Ralph starts to the time June starts.

Now I’m dying to hear: What was your experience after high school? Did you go to college, and if yes, did you attend 4 years in the same place? Or did you get to University through an unusual path? We have friends who partied through high school, attended okay colleges, and then did graduate work at Ivy League schools — anyone else? If you have kids old enough to go to college, what kind of path got them there?

P.S. — The real reason college tuition costs so much. Also, the advisor we talked to was recommended by our friends at church and he is fantastic, his name is Matthew Hulse, and if you live in the Bay Area and need college help, I would highly recommend him.

148 thoughts on “School Update”

  1. What a great post-how exciting for Ralph! Our oldest is finishing junior year-and is definitely doing the traditional AP burnout/ looking ahead to fall college applications route. I attended a college night with her at her high school last week. There was a panel of seniors who are doing a variety of things next year (private, UCs, in state, out of state, and community college.) It was interesting to hear how and why they chose their paths. The young woman who had decided on our local community college had started taking classes the summer between junior and senior years. Apparently, taking community college classes while in high school here in California is FREE. Who knew?? And because she’s taken many AP classes, tests, and has above a 3.5, she will only need to do one year at community college before transferring into a UC. (Not all the community colleges offer this program though.) I can definitely see the appeal of going that route. And with 3 younger kids to put through school, I am definitely going to explore the more “creative” options as we go along.

    1. Oh! That’s really good to know. Maude has a ton of AP classes and an excellent GPA. This might be a good fit for her! Though I can’t imagine she would ever be willing to leave her cross-country and track teams. Hah!

      1. Our district has the same policy, any class not offered at the high school is free at the community college.

        This year she took french which turned out to be pretty boring after 5 years of it already and many of the students were first year. Next year she’s taking a graphic design class instead.

        I’m actually sending this to Maddie to get her thinking about her options. She’s been talking about staying home after high school and taking classes at the community college or a local university.

        This wasn’t part of my “script” so I’m a little nervous about it…I want her to get the full college experience. But she’s also going to be 17 well into her freshman year of college so perhaps a year or two at home would be good for her (and our pocketbook!)

        Congrats to Ralph!

  2. This is so, so interesting! I followed a very traditional path — 4-year college right out of high school, graduate school right after that. I’m an engineer, and I feel like the non-traditional route for my field might not be the best way to go.

    Still, I ponder the future of education a lot since my daughter isn’t even 3 yet. I can’t help but think that the paths that feel “non-traditional” now are going to become more and more common since doing things the “normal” way is becoming prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. And as it becomes more common to take different routes through higher education, it will almost certainly become more widely accepted as well. The idea of having many options to choose from sounds exciting.

    Best of luck to Ralph! I’m excited to hear about his experiences in the coming years!

    1. I’m an engineer and the students who transfered from the nearby community college right into pro school actually seemed better prepared than many of those who did their first two years at the university. It probably depends on the programs at both locations whether it would be a disadvantage. As someone who paid my own way through school, I wouldn’t have minded those savings!

  3. I love it! I think it is fantastic that he is off pursing his dreams and not wasting time in high school filling requirements. Don’t you just love that kids today have these alternative options?
    After years of dishing out $22,ooo per a child for our private, international French school in the states we decided to travel and world school. We have found so many interesting resources and we feel our daughter is enjoying her education so much more.
    Our kids are still young, but we have a very similar plan for college. It will be fun to watch it evolve with Ralph.
    Kuddos to you mama (and papa) for being willing to step outside the “script” and venture into the unknown. Ralph is one lucky guy.

  4. How exciting for Ralph! It’s great that he has a way forward that feels right for him. That’s really the most important thing. If he’s invested in the choice, he’s sure to enjoy it more and be a better student!

    As for me, I attended four different undergraduate schools. Four. I can’t recommend that. I did manage to get my graduate degree at one school. :)

    I have a nephew who just graduated from high school and he’s doing the community-college-to-university route, and I have friends with older kids who are doing the same. I think it makes a great deal of sense economically for a lot of people these days. We’ll seriously consider it when our daughter gets to that point in her educational career, but I’d like her to also think about a gap year since she’ll be 17 when she graduates from high school.

  5. I think Ralph has found a great plan!

    I also followed a non-traditional route: I was home-schooled for high school, finished it when I was (barely) 16 because I worked on courses year-round, also took the GED, plus the ACT and SAT, attended a community college for two terms, and then transferred to BYU-Idaho where I finished undergrad. A couple of days after graduation I began graduate school. (20 straight years of school. Whew, glad that’s done!)

    Did I miss traditional high school? Not a bit! I was so ready to be done with school and to be independent. I think my parents regret letting me move out at 16 in hindsight since I’m the caboose of the family and their “job” ended earlier than expected, but I wouldn’t change a thing. Except now I look at 16 year olds and think, no way would I let them leave home that young!

    1. Chrysanthemum

      I did public school for K-8, then, like you, did homeschool for high school and went off to undergrad at age 16. And although it worked out for me (I wouldn’t change it, either), I really don’t want the same thing for my kids. It felt fine at the time, but now it seems way too young! If they want to graduate early I’ll probably encourage the community college idea/still living at home idea instead.

  6. I don’t know Ralph that well, but this new path seems so perfect for him. Happy for Ralph and happy for you!

  7. I was an exchange student my Sr year…then went to dvc, then transferred to Cal. I am super grateful still that that’s the path I took. Being at dvc left my GPA super high so I graduated cal with almost a 4.0, which left my grad school options wide open and allowed me to finish early and leave on my mission right at 21. It sounds like Ralph wants to transfer to a uc, but you can actually transfer to some private schools (byu) with only 30 credits and without the act/sat.

    1. Oh that’s awesome! I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes sense. Get excellent grades in community college where it’s not expensive and the stakes don’t feel as high, and then use that GPA to boost your junior and senior year at a university. Brilliant!

      Also, I don’t think I know what DVC means, though I’m assuming it’s a community college?

      1. Sorry! DVC is a large community college in pleasant hill…probably about 30 mins from you, because it is one of the largest most comprehensive community colleges in the area a lot of students drive from oakland/piedmont because of the wider range of classes.

  8. Delaware has the SEED program which is a great opportunity. You get two years of college for free if you qualify, and to qualify you just have to graduate from a Delaware high school with a 2.5 gpa or higher and not have any felony charges. You graduate with an associates of the arts degree, and can transition into a four year college to finish your bachelors. The only cost is for books and a few fees (like lab fees) so for less than $1000 a year, you can get an associates (if you live at home.) Delaware is a small state to begin with, and there are options for classes in several locations, so it’s all doable. My oldest did this program and it really helped her narrow her focus and get a little more maturity before heading out in the world.

  9. Knowing that you are a Mormon family, I wonder if Ralph is planning on serving a mission? If so, how does that affect the education plan? Just wondering.

      1. Wow! I’m so curious as to how you got to this point. Is is something where you are consciously having him make the choice as an adult, or something that is a result of your feelings about the church? I think it’s great that you’re not pressuring him either way, but I’d love to know at what point you turn the reins over on big decisions like this. My oldest just turned ten and I’m struggling to navigate the line between pushing my kids towards what I think are the right decisions, and letting them make decisions on their own in hopes that they’ll grow into functional adults who don’t need me by their side. :-)

    1. I don’t think I was against it all. I honestly knew almost nothing about it. I went straight from high school to a four year university and so did Ben Blair, so we’re just not that familiar with other options, and hadn’t really considered other options for our kids. But we’re trying to catch up!

      1. I’d like to add here that community college setups vary by state. California has an awesome option that is so affordable I choked on my coffee the first time I read about it. $26/credit to go to Santa Monica CC (last time I checked)? Wow. But I’m from a state in the North East where the CC option was lacking. It was not that cheap per credit even 15 years ago and there was no path into a regular university. Some of the community colleges had a few locations and therefore you might have to drive around to different campuses during the week for classes. You would have to apply as a transfer student, your earned class credits weren’t guaranteed to be accepted, and you would lose out on any opportunities for new student/freshman merit based financial aid awards which then ate up the savings of your first two years. That’s why it was all a big NO for me.

        1. So true! I hope it was clear from my post that I’m talking about California community colleges and the transfer programs that feed into the UC system. I’m sure options vary from state to state.

  10. Great post! We have an incoming kindergartner and a 4th grader too. I’m so excited to have them at the SAME school for at least a couple of years and they are so excited to walk to school together in the mornings.

    I did the almost the exact same thing Ralph is doing! I took the High School Equivalency Exam and then went to a community college for two years. Not many people in our family’s circle were doing “alternative” things with their education but it was exactly the right thing for me. And my first brave thing ever. After 2 years of taking “UC core” in the hopes of transferring to a UC that’s exactly what I did. I applied and was accepted to UC San Diego and had a great experience including living in the “transfer dorms” for my 1st year so I got the complete college experience.

      1. There are such a thing as ‘transfer dorms’ and there are lots of other options as well. I actually manage a residence hall area and work with students who live in the residence halls at Cal Berkeley and I love to talk about it if you ever have questions.

  11. This post is fascinating! I don’t have much to add because I went traditional, all the way, but I thought it was interesting you you mentioned being burned out after high school. I felt the same way. For one semester, I did the honors program, planned how to graduate early, Summa Cum Laude, and joined the student government. Then I was over it. I got very good grades. I graduated on time. I got a great job. I can honestly say that my life hasn’t been any different without graduating with honors than it would have been with that designation. Even knowing nothing would be different, though, there is a little high achiever in me screaming, “You quit! You didn’t follow through!” She’s not screaming very loud, though.

    1. I was the same during my freshman year! But for me the change happened when I entered the design program. I suddenly felt like I had far less control of my grades. Even if I worked my butt off, if the design that was in my head didn’t look awesome in real life, I wouldn’t get an A. That over-achiever in me had a hard time with that realization.

      But I graduated with a good GPA and I’ve never had problems getting work, so I suppose alls well the ends well. : )

  12. The only thing I am wondering is were you slightly just a little bit sad that you didn’t get to see him in a cap and gown. My husband coming from Germany thinks the whole cap and gown ceremony for highschoolers is kind of dumb because he feels like it isn’t really that special. I however and pushing for my son to stay the full 4 years and do the ceremony as 1) I want to see him in that cap and gown. Never thought we would get to this point as our son was not your cookie cutter student. Very bright but always gave the teachers the impression he had ADD. He doesn’t as we had him evaluated by a psychologist and a neurologist. He did suffer from Sensory Integration Disorder which took some thinking out of the box like allowing him to stand at his desk instead of sit. 2) I think he has plenty of time to be an adult, so I am in no rush for him to embark on that path. Sorry this is a little winded, but I spent a year abroad traveling the world and then spent 2 years at a community college before attending a 4 year University. I liked my experience at the community college because the teachers do not have the same pressure to publish and therefore were more relaxed and gave of their time with their students. The only way I can see this hurting your son would be if he were planning on being a professor as pedigree seems to really matter, but as it seems your son seems to have a passion for video production I think it is probably more forgiving. My husband has a Ph.D. from the University of Washington and while it is a great school it has stopped him from moving up to top A level schools. We are happy though as we live in Atlanta and he works at Georgia Tech.

    1. That’s a great question. I think I would care if Ralph cared about the cap and gown. But the idea of missing that doesn’t seem to phase him at all. Maybe he’ll save that experience for college.

  13. This is something that I’ve thought a lot about lately. My oldest is only 8 years old so we have a ways to go before we’re seriously thinking about what type of higher education path our kids take. However, my brother recently wrote a book (published this past March) called “The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere” which is all about the changing landscape of higher education and how he thinks new technologies are going to dramatically change the different options available to our kids, and make college a whole lot more affordable. (He is a columnist for the NYTimes and well-respected in his field – I am admittedly biased as his sister but also thinks his book speaks directly to your post – hope it’s okay I’m sharing it here!) There is also a lot of fascinating history about how our modern universities and colleges developed into their current form. I think Ralph’s current path sounds great for his professional interests and passions and I really hope it works out well for him.

  14. I think this is a great option! I do wonder if/how social life factored in–will he still go to young men’s? A YSA ward? Will he still be able to maintain his high schools friends?

  15. Hi Gabrielle,

    I love this plan for Ralph! I am such a huge advocate for taking your own college path.

    I went to a distinguished private high school, where SATs, college visits, and AP classes started our FRESHMAN year! In fact, some athletes committed to schools as sophomores! (That just blew my mind–how could they know that was the right school for them that early??).

    Personally, my standardized test scores never reflected who I was as a student; I put in all of the work and effort, but would never get the grades I’d hoped. Because of this, I didn’t get the SAT scores needed to get into my dream college. I was devastated, since it was the only school that I saw myself at, and eventually had to re-evaluate my plan.

    After sulking for a week, I decided to attend my “safety” school (luckily I had lots of back-up options!), a smaller university in the same city as my dream college. I worked my tail off my freshman year, got straight As, and re-applied as a transfer student to my dream school…and got in! Transferring was an adjustment, because I didn’t know anyone there, but because I was in the same city as my first school, I was familiar with the area and could stay friends with the people I’d just met.

    My college path wasn’t the norm, but it was perfect. I just had to block out all of the judgements and comments from others around me and stick to what was best for me. My twin sister applied to only one school, got in, and stayed there for four years. Having our amazing, supportive parents help each of us navigate our own unique path was key in the whole process—it sounds like you and Ben are doing the same for your kids. I love that.

    I wish Ralph the best of luck!

  16. This is great info! I did post-secondary enrollment my senior year (I went to college for free while getting credit for both high school and college courses). And…I was a hard working, but pretty average student. Then I went to community college for one year as I wasn’t firm on my direction. The following year I applied and was accepted to MCAD in Mpls where I pursued by BFA. It was a terrific albeit, not always easy, experience and I highly recommend options like it!

  17. I’m a huge proponent of following one’s own path.

    I started on the traditional HS to four years in university track. My university was private and doing any more than four is just too cost prohibitive! But in my junior year my path took a detour: I did a semester in England through my university. Which led to a scholarship to a year in Japan (my fourth year). I watched my friends graduate without me. I spent the next fall at my home university and then did a paid internship at the DOL my last semester. In the gaps, were challenge exams, a correspondence course, independent studies, winter and summer school classes.

    My divergent path lead to so many incredible experiences; my semester in England was a factor in the faculty nominating me for a scholarship, my year in Japan a factor in my (paid, which is practically unheard of) internship at the DOL, my internship at the DOL was a direct lead to one of my first contract jobs at 3Com and then Intel, which eventually lead to a host of other jobs, culminating a job at Google.

    After graduation and while working (and some times unemployed; I worked and was affected by the dot-com crash) I took classes for fun at the local community college. It was an amazing and really rewarding experience to take classes for fun or just because I wanted to. Learning for the sake of learning instead of for some external reason. It was enlightening.

    Now we homeschool our son in the unschooling fashion. It’s amazing what he learns and does each day because he still has that spark. He’s never forced to sit through boring material or waste time on things he’s not interested in or cramming for exams.

    We live in WA state and they have a program called Running Start for HS junior and seniors. If my son chooses when he is old enough he can go on a similar path to Ralph. Students in Running Start can take two years of community college classes tuition free.

  18. My daughter is just finishing her sophomore year and hasn’t gotten great grades (although she’s been pulling them up lately, yay!) We’ve been discussing her taking a gap year & have started looking into volunteer opportunities with AmeriCorps. Considering all of the stressful stuff that she’s been through in the past few years we thought a gap year would be good for her and give her a bit of a pause to really identify what she wants to pursue. Great article on it:
    Apparently a number of the most prestigious universities are looking on this route as a real positive for students.

      1. I went the super-stressed HS and straight to competitive college route, but had several good friends in college that had taken a year off between HS and college (the infamous gap year). They all seemed so much more grounded and focused in college and had real life stuff going on (jobs, life off campus, etc.) that kept them from getting too caught up in the dumb college social stuff.

    1. Hi Wendy, I’m an AmeriCorps program director and would be THRILLED to answer any questions you or your daughter have about AmeriCorps!

  19. Side note to the NY Times article you linked. While the number of “administrators” has indeed gone up, “administrators” is really just “staff.” “Staff” meaning people who work in the health center, counselors, campus safety, and other academic support staff like people in the writing center and tutors. These are services that have developed in the last 50 years to meet the demand of parents who wonder why their kid is sick and failing. So, yes, “administrators” have gone up, but what is the value added? I actually work in higher ed, and see this debate first hand. I can also attest that the money is not going into faculty pockets. The number of adjuncts (people who teach part time at a significantly reduced salary) in higher ed is absolutely huge right now. Adjuncts are the majority component of community college faculty, and this is part of how community colleges can be so inexpensive.

    I’m happy to hear that Ralph has found a good fit for him. I have lots of feelings about higher ed, obviously, but one thing I know for sure is that traditional college is not the right fit for everyone, just as community college is equally not the right fit for everyone. I’m glad that you were willing to find a solution that seems like it will work for your family. That’s all that matters.

  20. Hi, there. I’ve never commented on a blog post before, but I just wanted to chime in and say that the path Ralph chose is the one that I did. I grew up in Huntington Beach, CA. I was punk rock in high school and made fine grades, but my passion was going to shows and politics, not traditional extracurriculars and traditional tests, and my grades were not good enough to get me into any University I was interested in e.g. UCLA, Columbia, NYU, or BYU. I begged my mom to let me graduate early and go to college so I could engage in academics I was actually interested in, but she thought it was important to give me the full high school experience. I understand that now that I am a parent, but I think the right thing for me would have been to graduate early and start on the path I did anyway a year earlier, so good for you for letting Ralph follow his own responsible path. I went to Orange Coast College (community college) for two years, where I earned a 4.0 GPA with classes that were interesting and challenging for the first time. The faculty were all teachers who came from prestigious schools like Stanford, USC, Pepperdine, etc., who were no longer interested in publishing so taught at community college. I applied to BYU, UCLA, and Columbia after getting my AA and was accepted to all of them with scholarships, which never would have happened straight out of high school. I chose BYU and have to say that even though I loved BYU, I found my teachers to be more inspiring and invested in me during community college. My community college cost $11 per credit (10 years ago), so basically going this route made college almost free for me. Two of my brothers have taken the same route and been accepted to the schools of their choice. One of them did actually transfer to BYU after one year at community college. He just had to take more credits once at BYU because he didn’t finish his AA. Universities love community college transfer students because they get in and out fast. California has an amazing community college system. Sorry for the novel, but I am passionate about my college route. It worked out amazingly for me, and I hope the same for your Ralph.

  21. In our area, the community college has a program that high schoolers can take: when they graduate from High School they also graduate with an associates degree! I’ve seen better scholarships given to these kids because they are already half way done with a bachelors.

  22. That is so exciting. I feel like you just let everyone in on some big cost saving secret by going this route. Of course I think most people know about this type of plan but I never met anyone who went the community college route.
    I personally went the traditional 4 year HS (overseas in a DoDDS school but still), 4 year college degree (in 4 years of course), went on to work 40 hr/week M-F job in my field. After 3 years I got married, after 8 years I had a baby and am continuing to work full time. Starting to save for my baby’s college plan now is so daunting, any other ‘script’ from normal seems refreshing to me! I’ve heard there are overseas college plans for US students that are free (or very cheap) – do you know anything about those?

  23. so interesting! it’s awesome that there are so many paths a student can take. i followed a very traditional path– super involved in high school, loved all the traditions and “lasts” of senior year and then went on to a private college in a small town in MN. i loved the tight-knit community, the academic environment, the traditions, the school spirit. i made my very best friends in college, bonding through all of the transitions a college student goes through and even met my husband there as well. i’m now an admissions counselor at a small private university and it’s fascinating to be a part of the higher education world. there are so many options– one size definitely does not fit all.

  24. I am an advocate for using the UC transfer system. For my sophomore through senior years of high school, I went to an extremely competitive boarding school, which already felt like a small liberal arts college. When it was time for me to apply for college, I had my heart set on attending UC Berkeley, but did not have the SAT scores to get accepted. I could have gone to other four year universities that I wasn’t really invested in, but instead decided to attend community college in San Diego for a year while living with my sister. I had taken 7 AP tests over my junior and senior years and earned acceptable scores, so I was able to transfer after one year of community college. And I got to spend that year living with my sister, which was great!

    It was a perfect decision for me since I already had a kind of college experience during boarding school and was really ready to focus on my studies by the time I transferred. I was able to graduate with a B.A. in English from Berkeley in three years (with honors, even). My only regret is not staying an extra year to study abroad.

    It sounds like Ralph is quite mature and has his priorities straight, which will serve him well no matter what he ends up doing. Kudos to you both for being open to a less-traditional educational path.

  25. I’m a huge supporter of community college. I started my career with a 2-year degree in graphic design and then transferred to a 4-year college to earn my BS and MBA. I loved learning tangible skills that I could apply right away (I worked my way through college – all the way!). With six kids, you may experience a different “script” for each.

  26. Congratulations for taking the road less traveled! My son just finished his senior year at a very rigorous high school and will be leaving for college in August. I wouldn’t wish that college stress on anyone! He was definitely done with HS after his Sophomore year and could have graduated but he felt it was too unheard of to not “follow the path.” One of my friends son did the same thing as Ralph and will be entering UCLA in the fall. I LOVE that you all have the courage to follow your hearts and are supporting his path. I think if more people did the rat race of college these days would calm down.

  27. I think this is a wonderful post Gabby. It reminds me of when my kids were little. There were many, many “scripts” that were supposed to be followed in the canon of parenting. But early on I learned to trust our (my husband and mine) own instincts as parents. And as they get older, I place a good deal of trust in my kids’ instincts about what feels right/makes sense to them. Ultimately we know ourselves best, and there is much liberation and responsibility in that fact. Ralph will do great, no matter what twists and turns his education takes, and precisely because he is authoring his own script.

  28. I love that college norms are changing and that your family is so flexible!

    In high school, I had wanted to go to art school for college, but was discouraged and instead told to do something more practical. Not sure what that was, I went to community college first, and finished my AA in 3 semesters. The nice thing about community college is that they give you SO many opportunities to succeed! Free tutoring, extra resources, counselors, etc. I applied and was accepted to 4 UC schools, choosing UCLA and art history as my major. Since I finished a semester early, I took the spring and summer to work and travel before starting in the fall. I graduated 2 years later, had a museum internship in the summer, and spent the following year in france as an au pair.

    All that to say, since graduation I have found steady work in the more “practical” arts-related jobs, but they are all completely administrative. Feeling unfulfilled creatively, I am now going back to school for art – 5 years after my college graduation (at night, part time)! I understand that my parents were just trying to do what they thought was best, but looking back I wish they had been more flexible with a non-traditional college path. To their credit, they get it now :)

  29. wow, great to hear! i followed a traditional path but my husband and i are very open to the community college since i do know of several families and former classmates that went this route. supposedly when my kids are ready for college a 4 year degree is suppose to cost about half a million dollars. which is so bonkers and so wrong in so many levels. but i guess that’s a separate conversation!

  30. I hope that you and Ralph (and Maude) will keep us posted on how this plays out over the next few years! I took the standard overachiever route and was a giant mess of stress by the end of my senior year–I still remember landing in the hospital after I broke down after a week of IB exams and state speech competitions. I did my BA in 3 years and went right on to grad school. Now I worry about my own kids; my fourth-grader was in an accelerated class this year that gave her 2-3 hours of homework every night. It’s hard for me to know if I would be happier if I’d taken another route (there’s something to be said for happiness derived from full-ride scholarships, no student loans, and job security) but I don’t know if I want to push my kids toward the same path. I really love that your family is exploring an alternate route that seems to fit Ralph’s needs and goals better than the standard script. I hope I’m brave enough to do the same if that’s what my own children need.

  31. I took only one AP class and had okay grades in High School but was not enthusiastic about going straight to university. I went to the local community college in Los Angeles and enjoyed it there very much. I took every history class with this one professor because he was fascinating to listen to and at $30 a unit I could afford to. I received an A.A. in Child Development with fantastic marks. The experience was eye opening and as a high school student I could not have predicted my future. Afterwards I could have transferred to a university but instead went to work as an early childhood teacher.

    I eventually went to the Academy of Art at thirty to study graphic design and loved it. Colleges can be expensive however and its best to know what you want to do/study beforehand. It sounds like Ralph really does have focus! The school Animation Mentor in Emeryville sounds like another cool option and many Pixar employees teach there.

  32. Robin in NoCo

    With the benefit of a block schedule (4 classes per semester, full class finished in one semester), my daughter was able to graduate on Saturday, one year early. She participated in youth orchestra, took AP German, and was just plain ready for a new and different experience. All the best to Ralph!

  33. Way to go, Ralph! Sounds like a great plan. I have become an advocate for community college transfers, even though I went to San Francisco State for four years. Tuition is easily 4x what I paid 10 years ago. My daughter is only 2 so we are far from college planning but it’s good to know what options are out there. My baby cousin is graduating from Oakland public schools next month and heading to UCLA. Our entire family is extremely proud of her. (her dad, my uncle, passed away when she was 9 so she’s had a tough life). She applied for lots of scholarships and about 60% of her tuition and room and board are being paid for.

  34. Such an interesting read, Gabrielle! I started university right out of high school because I knew what I wanted — to be a writer and an English teacher. But then I struggled with staying motivated in school, ended up going part-time for a while, then taking a year off to figure things out. I started back this past January, renewed and refreshed, with my eye on the prize of my BA in English. I have one more semester, and then I am done. By the end it will have been eight years since I started. Most people have PhDs by that time… but I’ve learned that everyone’s education experience is different.
    My husband started school after his mission and took a two-year IT program. He worked at least 20 hours, while having a full-course load and ended with a 4.0. He got a job in his field right after and next month will be his two-year anniversary with the company. Obviously we are both very different students!
    I also wanted to say that I commend you and Ben for being so supportive of Ralph in his post-secondary decisions. I had a lot of friends in high school who were pressured by their parents to take certain courses, or go to certain schools. It’s so nice to see parents who trust their kids to do their best in their chosen paths.

    Kristi |

  35. Way to go, Ralph! I took the traditional route as well, 4 years of high school and then off to UCSB. After a year, a whole bunch of factors led me to transfer to a CSU by my hometown (namely my dad getting cancer and the cost of tuition) and I ended up graduating from there with a B.A. in history–and now I’m a secondary teaching credential student (2 quarters to go!) with a job lined up. One thing I did do was take community college classes during the summer and have them transfer to my CSU to get my college GEs out of the way faster. That worked beautifully for me and saved me a lot of money. Going from a UC to a CSU was a HUGE sigh of relief for me financially (even though I missed the friends I made at UC, though we’re still close). It’s so interesting to hear the different paths we all take towards higher ed.

  36. Congrats to Ralph and kudos to his parents for supporting his path. As an aspiring filmmaker, I can certainly picture a future which may not even include a transfer and ultimate college degree. Who cares if an artist has the credentials if the artist can produce work that someone wants to buy? Yes, there are still many fields that require a more traditional route…doctor, dentist, accountant, teacher to name a few. But when a young person already knows that s/he is an artist, the main route must be practicing and perfecting one’s craft. Whether he does that in formal classes, as an apprentice, or learning while doing, the objective is to create and ultimately, sell art. B/c art without commerce is a hobby.

  37. Great topic. I went the classic route – 4 years away at college right after high school. LOVED IT. I will have a high school student this fall, and I am looking at every which way to go about a college education. We live near an excellent community college and will most likely make good use of it. I just cannot see accruing large debt for an education if it can be avoided! I’ve switched my perspective and now look at how we can make the system work for us.

  38. I think this is such a great option. My husband did this- he “dropped out” of high school after his sophomore year in high school and attended community college. No GED, no ACT/SAT. after two years he applied to a stellar university and got in through the back door as a transfer student. My younger brother did the same thing, and for him it was so awesome. He wants to be a doctor so he was able to take many pre Recs for Med school and take cadaver labs etc instead of sitting in a high school classroom. He left after his freshman year of high school.

  39. Congrats to Ralph!

    I took the traditional route–4 years (or actually five years for a Bachelor of Architecture) of a college education at a public university. The only way I was even able to afford this route, though, was with very generous scholarships. I had my hopes set on an Ivy League education, but when the financial aid package came in, and I saw the costs, the decision was quickly made for me (I was so naive–I didn’t realize how it worked when I applied!). My husband went the public-university-on-a-scholarship route too, and after we got married, together we were able to pay off our student loans and save the $50,000 he needed for an Ivy League grad degree. It was the best investment we’ve ever made. Now I am a big proponent of not getting into too much debt for college, even if it means foregoing the traditional route–and especially the private school route–for undergrad.

    Oh, and about being off script? I totally feel you. All of our serious conversations these days center around our son’s education–non-traditional routes, what they mean for his chances at college, and if we even care. College admissions is a game I don’t even want to play.

  40. I’ve been hesitant about allowing my kids to consider the community college option because I’ve read so many articles about community colleges being overcrowded here in California. Articles will talk about students being unable to get into needed classes, leading to a two year program taking three years or more. I’m curious how true people have found this to be.

  41. I took this exact path back in 1997! Except I left after my sophomore year of high school in southern California. I was an over-achieving neurotic teenager and this path allowed me to pursue college early, stay at home and “head off” to college (UC Berkeley) with my peers two years later — I was just a junior and they were freshman. I still went to prom, football games and parties with my friends, but went to my local community college instead of my last two years of high school. This path isn’t for everyone, but it allowed me to still be an over achiever, but in my own way and actually allowed me to look up from the books and pursue other volunteer opportunities in my community. Plus, the transfer system from community colleges to any UC or CSU school in CA is phenomenal and painless. My parents (one a university professor and one a university dean) were concerned, too, about university prospects, but I transferred to UC Berkeley and had a blast. All around great experience. Go Ralph!

  42. We were on the 4 year college path with our youngest, who will be a Senior next year. He completed his Sophomore year with a 3.8. He had a rough Junior year that didn’t end the way we would have hoped. We are exploring all options,but our favorite right now is finishing Senior year with concurrent enrollment at a community college, followed by a gap year, then finishing his AA at the community college AND transferring to a 4 year school. It has been refreshing to let go of the the college admission process and all the stress that came with it!

  43. Seems like such a great choice for him! I think it’s hard to know what decisions to make about college, work, majors, etc. as a teenager anyway. Almost everyone I know either changed their major several times or transferred schools (I graduated and THEN decided I’d made the wrong decision!). Also, most people I know who are in debt really wish they had gone to community college. It’s such a great financial decision! Good luck to him!

  44. Ah. This comes at a good time. My niece is finishing her sophomore year at a California State University and wants to move home and take next semester off. Various family members are in various states of hand wringing. I’m of the mind that she’s 20 years old with many, many years ahead of her and has plenty of time to decide her own path. So, it’s good to read about Ralph’s choice and your support.

    As for my academic career, I went the traditional course though it took me five years to graduate (California state colleges were really inexpensive back in the 80s). I switched from biology to graphic design the second semester of my sophomore, then went on exchange to the East coast so needed the extra time to get the absolute minimum credits to graduate. Much to my parents annoyance, I was a lazy high school student and a slightly less lazy college student. But, I’ve been working, happily, in graphic design (in San Francisco, no less, where you can’t throw a stick without hitting 20 of us) ever since I graduated. I took a year off to work in Europe and on my portfolio, at home, before moving to SF and finding my first job. In design, it’s different because your GPA doesn’t really matter, it’s your portfolio.

  45. Good for Ralph!

    I teach in the CA community college system. It is ridiculously affordable, yes. There are also many great opportunities at CC.

    The biggest factor I noticed in my students is how individually motivated they are. Sure, there are a bunch of people just milling about at CC, but there are also a lot of people in Ralph’s shoes, who have a clear sense of what they want from their education and are working hard to make that happen.

    I highly recommend that he talk to other students about which profs/classes to take. As anyone who has been a student is well aware, who the professor is can make a world of difference. Rate My Professor is okay, but it is full of comments from students who earned poor grades for poor work, so you gotta filter out those to see a more clear picture of the professor through it.

    Best of luck!

  46. Wow – well done Ralph!

    Having grown up in Australia, I have absolutely no idea about how high school works in America – apart from what I’ve learned from tv shows like Beverly Hills 90210! I must admit that I don’t even know at what grade level high school starts here – which is something I really should know seeing as my kids go to school here. Back home in Australia we don’t have middle school – unless it has changed recently. Primary School goes from Reception (same as US Kindergarten) through to 7th grade. High school then goes from 8th grade through to 12th. It varies from state to state, but where I grew up the grades from your final two years go towards your university entrance score. There are no special tests like the SATs required to enter university, just your final exams which you do whether or not you plan to attend university.

    University life is much different in Australia as well. Once again, everything I knew about college in America came from tv shows and movies, and until I moved to Berkeley I didn’t realise just how real much of it was. In Australia hardly anyone moves away to another city to attend university. You just go to a university in the city that you already live in and either stay living with your parents or move into a share house with a group of friends. The only dorm houses in the city I grew up in are pretty much just for country students and I’ve only ever met one person who has lived in them. We don’t have fraternities or sororities in Australia either. I love taking visitors from home to Frat Row on Piedmont Ave because it just feels so foreign and like something straight out of a Revenge of the Nerds movie! There never seems to be a panty raid happening though ;) I also love going to Cal Day and seeing the big pep rally with the marching band and cheerleaders. We have nothing like that in Australia either. You never see an Australian university student wearing clothing with the school logo or colours plastered all over it. In fact, I don’t think that universities have team colours!
    One of my favourite things about living in a country that I didn’t grow up in is seeing all these differences :)

  47. Many years ago, I did pretty much what Ralph is doing.

    I was a super academic kid in a rural school. Because only about 10% of the graduates went to college, much of the school’s resources went to educating kids to enter the work force. That was appropriate, given the make up of the school. But I was bored and beginning to get in trouble, so, on my own, I figured out how to fulfill the graduation requirements in three years. Because I was not well-prepared for university-level work, I enrolled in a junior college for one year before transferring to a university, where I stayed for 4 years. Considering that I had a total of five years as an undergrad (comm college + univ), I graduated with two bachelor degrees and a minor at the same time my peers were graduating with one degree. It was a different road, but one that worked for me.

    Now that my oldest is in (a very expensive, out-of-state) university, we are also going off track a bit by having him take some of his lower-level general requirements at a local college during the summer as a transient student. Enrolling as a transient student means you have to get permission from the dean of the college where you are enrolled to ensure the course credit will transfer. He is in a 5-year dual degree program, and by doing this we figure he will be able to lop at least one semester off.

  48. Chiming in here for the non-traditional group.
    I was in France after my junior year of high school doing a summer school program and in August, my dad called to tell me that he’d enrolled me at BYU-Provo. This was 1986. Three days before school started I arrived at my dorm at 17 years old. It worked for me since I’d had AP classes, a summer of school in France, and was frankly bored in high school.
    I also did college in 3 years and graduated with a B.A. at 20. I’m so glad I did it. I have a lot of friends that are going back to school with families in tow and that seems so hard (plus our brains are different as we get older….can we say ‘mommy brain’).
    However, with my own kids, it’s been interesting. One has done the traditional route of 4 years high school/college (and all paid with some money from us, her work/savings so she was debt free when graduated); another did 2 years during high school at our community college and will graduate in 2.5 years with a B.A.; another did 4 years high school because she was involved with EVERY club and did some community college/some university. I still have 2 more that we’ll see what route we take.
    As a non-traditional colleger, I was worried about my kids missing all the ‘scripts’ of high school like I did. It totally seems to matter depending on each child and their desires. So, I’m all for throwing out scripts and letting the child maneuver through their education at-will.

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