You don’t have to go to college, but . . .

That’s what we told our oldest daughter when she graduated from high school. At the time, many of her peers, homeschooled or otherwise, were ready to move into a four-year university with a major in mind. But not Bookgirl.

She’s never walked lockstep with the mainstream. A reserved soul who keeps many of her thoughts and feelings to herself, Bookgirl has always stayed on the periphery of any activity. While other girls talked about where they would live, whom they would marry, or what they would do when they grew up, Bookgirl just rued the fact that she’d never discovered a magical portal to a parallel world. Although she did well in high school and got a good score on her SAT, her ideas for her future remained nebulous. Sure, she’d love to be a book editor someday. On the other hand, if anybody was offering the chance to become a dragon, she’d be all over that.

None of this surprised Darren or me, of course. One of the major reasons why we homeschooled her was that she worked best without the pressure of schedules or activity. By the time she graduated, she was more comfortable in a classroom setting. Yet none of us—Bookgirl included—felt that she was ready to launch into college life.

This presented a real dilemma to me. I myself didn’t go to college, and I regret it. At the time that I was college-age, we were listening to people who claimed that young people shouldn’t attend college but should pursue “apprenticeship.” It sounded good on paper but didn’t pan out in reality for most of us. Additionally, we were taught by those same people that young women didn’t need to have a career at all, because we should focus on getting married and having a family.

Ten years later, I was a mom with four children and completely dependent on Darren’s income; if something had happened to him, I had no good way to support us. We got through those years with no tragedy, but I don’t wish that insecurity on my daughters.

All that said, I really never wanted to go to college. Like many people, I would rather live life than sit in a classroom. So I understood Bookgirl’s disinterest in college, even while I knew it was important to build a foundation for her future.

As Darren and I discussed it and listened to other homeschoolers who had seen their children into successful adulthood, we found an answer.

We told Bookgirl, “You don’t have to go to a four-year college, or finish college in four years, or even go to college. But you have to have a plan. Don’t get into adulthood without knowing where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.”

With the pressure off, we helped Bookgirl map out her next few years after high school. She took off one year to open a bank account, learn to cook, grocery shop, and see how a household is run. (This was in 2020, the most perfect year in history to stay home.) That summer, she got a job and signed up for two online classes with the local community college. A year later, she saved up enough from her job to pay for her next two classes. And so it goes, a slow pace but a definite plan that’s going to get her where she wants to go.

(And although we’re all pleased with her accomplishments, she’s still holding out hope for that magic portal.)

—Sara