Will unschooling my child narrow their career options as an adult?

Parents want the best for their kids, so while unschooling seems nice through childhood many of us worry about the impact such a path will have on their future adult career options.

How will they stack up against their schooled peers in adulthood? Will a university degree be required for the thing they really want to pursue? Will employers give them a shot without formal schooling behind them? A dozen other questions along these lines fill us with worry.

I boil all these down to one question: will unschooling my child narrow their career options as an adult?

And the answer is not what you’ll expect, because it’s yes.

I’m going to narrow their career options? This is not good, not good!

Oh, but it is. Because here are the career options that won’t be available to them:

  • Jobs where they don’t like their boss
  • Jobs where they don’t like their work
  • Jobs that don’t balance or blend well with their life
  • Jobs where they can’t be themselves
  • Jobs where…

Ok, you get the idea. The very nature of guiding a child, teenager and young adult along a creative, collaborative, entrepreneurial, expressive, free path will mean they’re highly unlikely to accept a job that has those characteristics. You have narrowed their career options, yes, but in the best way possible.

They haven’t spent 13 years in a hierarchical environment being told what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and what they should be getting out of it. School kids have been conditioned to it, but a person who was homeschooled or unschooled as a child would be incredibly uncomfortable in a role with those characteristics.

Ok, that’s lovely and all, but I really can’t see an unschooled child growing up and being comfortable with any boss or structure – and I really worry about that.

And it’s completely understandable that you would – on the surface it just won’t work. We picture a child running free through life only to have it all come crashing down when they hit the workforce as an adult. They don’t respect authority, they have a problem with their boss, they can’t structure their day…the whole thing is a mess, and they either quit or get fired. What have we done?!

I honestly do get it, because this is one of the things I had to overcome early on myself. And after much research and reflection, I can confidently say this concern couldn’t be further from my mind now.

Why? Because what we’re instilling in our children through unschooling is the idea of choice and meaning. Choosing who they respect and why, choosing who they invest their time in and why, choosing who they will serve and why…and they will use that same choice and meaning muscle when it comes to their career – whether they’re starting something themselves or working for someone else.

That’s too utopian – I need a real-world example.

Sure, I’ll use myself. I worked for a business where I didn’t like the management style, so I started my own company. It was hard, I had to make sacrifice after sacrifice, but I scrapped and worked and fought for it because I wanted to run a company that treated people differently. It was an infinitely harder road than just sticking around and complaining about my old boss with everyone else, but I was happy.

Years later, via a very squiggly line that will be another story on another day, I’m now working for someone else – someone I respect, and who I interviewed as much as they interviewed me back at the start. I wanted to be sure our values aligned, and they did/still do. We flex remote work, family balance is valued, and I look forward to Monday as much as I look forward to the weekend.

Choice and meaning – it can be part of any stage of life, it just takes a mindset shift from accepting someone else’s version of life to choosing your own one. Yes, it will be harder. Yes, it will be worth it.

Right, so an unschooled kid might be able to work for someone else then. But how will they get the job in the first place if they’re up against a pack who are educated?

Good question, and voila – I can help again. Because while I work for someone, I also look after others – I run a department within my company and have a team of ten across three countries. And guess what I’m doing right now, to take us full circle? Hiring.

So who am I looking for? Who stands out? Who gets an interview, and who doesn’t?

As a hiring manager for an awesome company with an incredible culture of respect and life balance, these are the qualities I look for in a person:

  • Confident, independent thinker
  • Creative and passionate
  • Honest, transparent, no ego
  • Communicates well across any age/society/culture/socio-economic group
  • Problem solver
  • Obsesses over outcomes rather than in/outputs (i.e. it’s not the boxes you tick along the way that are important, it’s the result you achieve)
  • Seeks out meaning in life (someone with meaning is always more engaged in their work)

Every single one of the above qualities is crushed by the very nature of school. I watched the flame go out in my 7-year-old son’s eyes after just one year in a classroom…and I watched my other son (who is more academic) get into an uncomfortably comfortable rhythm of ticking boxes (inputs) rather than diving into things with passion (and thus producing outcomes with meaning).

But…but…formal education!

We’re only ever looking at higher education, and a lot of the big universities are valuing homeschooling/unschooling applications these days anyway. They’re even actively recruiting them, because kids with alternative education backgrounds know how to drive their own learning. A homeschooled or unschooled teenager passionate about a subject they want to take forward into university can most definitely make that happen.

No good employer would place high school education above university education, and you’ll find the best employers often deprioritise formal education altogether. The person sitting in front of them, and the skill set and motivation they’re bringing to the table, is the focus.

I see the same kind of candidate over and over and over…the same school background, the same degrees, the same style of thinking…that’s fine, but they don’t stand out. Then an application will land on my desk that has a different vibe – they’ve taken a different path in life and know how to tell their story, or they’ve focused on projects that give them experience rather than education…something outside the normal box. That gets my attention.

To wrap up, the irony of this worry – giving our children the best shot at a career as an adult – is that it’s school that isn’t preparing our children for success. Particularly for the version of this world that will exist in 15, 20, 30 years from now.

Unschooling creates free, respectful, confident thinkers with strong problem-solving skills and an internal radar that has been honed to seek out meaning in life. It’s just such a significantly different profile to that of a young adult exiting the school system.

And with all that said, I’m off to jump back into this stack of CVs and see if I can find someone breaking the mould.


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