When you were graduating high school, what did you think you’d be doing right now? Did your 18-year-old-self really accurately predict what career you’d be in and how your life circumstances would evolve?
Imagine being your kid, applying to college, thinking that the choices he makes right now will dictate his entire future.
One of the most daunting parts of applying to college for many teenagers is deciding what to major in. This isn’t the same as choosing an ultimate fate, though. And it’s up to you to help him overcome that if he’s feeling that type of pressure.
We can’t possibly expect our kids to say, “Mom, for the rest of my life I want to do this thing. Forever.”
It’s perfectly OK that your own kid isn’t sure just yet what he’d like to study.
Share these tips with your teen to help decide when, and how, to choose the major that will be the best fit.
Let’s begin with the most important thing first:
1| Don’t panic.
…and help your kid to relax, too. It’s completely OK not to have a clear major in mind when starting college.
And the fact is, most students don’t. The most popular major prospective students enter on the Common Application is, in fact, “undecided.”
That’ll hopefully ease up on the pressure a bit.
Most colleges don’t require students to declare a major until the end of sophomore year. If your teenager’s really not sure which path to follow, this gives him four beautifully invaluable semesters to take different courses, learn more about himself, see what excites him and captures his interest. He can enroll in courses that wouldn’t be available to him if he did declare a major already – and that’s a huge benefit.
And another reason not to sweat it: Students very often switch majors at least once in college. Expect that it’ll happen, and be okay with it.
2| Start with interests, not job prospects.
Many students start researching majors by reading articles like “25 Highest-Paying Jobs in America” or “10 Careers that Will Be In High Demand after Graduation.” Making a smooth, seamless transition into the job market and earning the most money can easily come first to mind as important factors in deciding what to major in. But “success” isn’t always defined by a paycheck.
Following interests as they arise, even if your teen is unsure about where they might lead and what a starting salary might bring in, is truly the best course. Often our interests turn into our passions, and these can be the seeds of what makes us happy and to what we’ll ultimately become.
Interests are often born in the first year or two of college where students are exposed to courses and new ways of thinking that weren’t accessible previously. Encourage your teen to allow that process to unfold naturally, and to remain curious about and involved in new opportunities.
Your teen will learn what really excites him if he remains flexible those first couple of years at college, and he can move forward knowing he’s found something he’ll be passionate about.
3| Encourage some initial self-discovery.
Your kid’s hearing advice from all over the place: The media’s telling him which jobs are the best in our economy for making the most money. His well-intentioned uncle’s saying he should be a lawyer. Grandma thinks he should be a doctor.
This is your teen’s life – his own pilgrimage. So let’s first make sure he knows that the control is all his.
Encourage him to do a little self-assessing:
- Interests: Write a list of things that excite you, or jobs and careers that appeal to you.
- Abilities: What are your strengths? What kinds of skills do you have? What subjects are you good at in school?
- Values: What would you value in a job? Is it important to you to work alone? In groups? Have a positive impact on others? Work under pressure?
Are there any patterns showing up for him here? There are many other questions to be answered, but this’ll certainly get him started thinking.
To really dig in, I recommend that you check out StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath. It’s a book with an assessment that will reveal your teen’s super powers: his own, personal natural talents that he should continue to develop, refine and seek opportunities to use.
This is a time for exposure to new ideas and exploring new interests. The start of a journey of self-discovery. Help your teenager to enjoy the scenery, and to use college simply as a jumping-off point for a successful future down the road.
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