Is Your College Student Struggling Academically?Suzanne Shaffer
Every parent wants their student to find their “calling” and click with a major that will help pave the way to a career. Students want that, too!
But the process of declaring a major can be scary as well as exhilarating. “Am I making the right choice?” they wonder anxiously. “Will I be able to find a job after graduation?” "Will the ROI on my degree be high enough to make it worthwhile?"
And then there is the classic question from well-meaning family and friends: “What are you going to do with that?”
For students whose majors are clear pathways to careers (think nursing, or accounting), the last question can be answered easily. However, for undecided students worried not only about choosing the “right” major but also about how their degree will prepare them for employment someday, the question can increase their self-doubt. And with self-doubt comes even more anxiety.
No need to make this experience more traumatic than it already is. Remember that it’s normal for the journey from major to career to twist and turn. Make an effort to keep things in perspective and you’ll be able to share this attitude with your student.
One of the best strategies to use with college students is to encourage them to reflect on what they liked when they were younger, what they did in their spare time for fun, and what activities they participated in and why. Their past holds clues about the kinds of majors that might interest them. For example, someone who counseled their friends through difficult times may find themselves interested in psychology or social work. An athlete might gravitate to sports management…or sports medicine.
The best way to erase self-doubt is to find a subject they like and that will help them build transferrable skills. Ask what kinds of classes interest them the most and which classes challenge them to think and grow. Their answers should give them an idea of what they want to spend several years studying. A student who says they want to major in business “so my parents will leave me alone” is not a student who will be happy for long with their choice.
Reading through the college’s course catalog is another way to narrow their choices. (The course catalog and degree requirements can be found on the school’s website.) If your student is choosing between economics and education, for example, they can check out the degree requirements (an internship? a foreign language?) to see which plan appeals to them more. Have them browse the course descriptions as well. They'll spend a lot of time in their major courses and should be intrigued by the topics that await them in that department.
The academic advisor will help them navigate the process of completing a degree, and the career counselor can help them develop a plan to translate what they’re learning to workplace needs. Meeting with both throughout college can keep your student on track and help them make any needed adjustments along the way.
Some of the best advice about college majors comes from recent graduates. New graduates are likely to tell your student that in general the skills they acquired in college (e.g., critical thinking, written communication, appreciation for diversity) are more important than the content knowledge they gained from their major. At the very least, their advice may lower the pressure to make a “right choice.”
Double majoring, or earning degrees in two disciplines, is impressive. Double majors and minors (which take fewer classes to complete than a major) offer an opportunity to delve deep into more than one discipline, which may be helpful to a student after graduation. For example, a double major in biology and philosophy could be very useful for someone who wants to work in biomedical ethics.
But is adding another major or minoring in a complementary discipline necessary? Is it even practical?
Double majors — and some minors — may increase the time it takes to graduate and increase the cost of the degree. They can also be complicated to manage, depending on how different the focus of study is to your student's original major.
Depending on your student's long-term plans, a double major or a minor will most likely not enhance their job or graduate school prospects unless they can demonstrate the value of the additional course work.
Students change majors for a variety of reasons and it's perfectly normal. But it can still be worrisome to parents, who wonder if their student will be able to graduate on time.
In addition to discussing what led them to this new direction (was it a single fabulous course or professor? a new career goal?), here are a few questions you can ask to help your student make the best decision:
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