The summer after the junior year in high school may be the first time that students have wrestled with which major they will declare on those looming college applications. While that choice will most likely change once they are in college, this is certainly the time to think hard about what the future might look like. And, it is imperative that the family makes a fully informed decision.
As students look at their own future, at any college or any degree program, some fundamental questions are helpful:
- What do you think you want to do with your life?
- What kind of degree will that take?
- What job can you get with that degree?
- How many actual jobs are out there in that particular field?
- Will this degree stand alone or will you be required to get advanced degrees?
- How much will all this education cost?
- What colleges are the best at helping you train for this field and are their graduates getting recruited?
- What is the pay?
- How long will it take you to pay back your student loan based on that salary?
We’ve seen some seismic shifts in the world and the jobs in it. Things have changed drastically in our economy since parents went to college. Career paths are changing. The cost of a college education has skyrocketed, and those debts are crippling a generation. So, let’s remove our rose-colored glasses and look realistically at all this.
We have to look honestly at supply and demand. We need to know the return on the investment that we are getting ready to make.
If, after careful evaluation of the current marketplace, you determine that really makes no sense to encourage your child to pursue a field with an uncertain future or a negative ROI, you need to know there are good options for them to still follow their hearts. While it would be lovely if life allowed all of us to do only what we liked, there are few who get to spend every waking minute of a lifetime doing that. Sometimes we have to keep things for love rather than depend on them to provide for our families.
Often a student can use their college electives for those delightful things that make their heart sing. While my daughter was in a grinding engineering major at Princeton, she took private violin lessons and was the only engineer in the humanities sequence, a series of interdisciplinary classes taught by the best professors in literature, art, and architecture. With hard work and careful planning, she was able to have the best of both worlds.
Keep in mind that in adulthood, people have hobbies. I have many friends, like myself, who are amateur artists. Our art informs and enriches our world but doesn’t have to put food on the table. I would suggest that we train our kids to be realistic about the job market and show them how to live passionately by developing skills in many areas. It really doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
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