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Five Conversations Worth Having Over Break

Brian Soika

Winter break is a great time to reconnect with your college-age children. While they might rather go out with their friends than spend hours at home with their family, this vacation is longer than others during the school year so you're sure to find time to catch up — including discussing their educational and career goals. Don't be discouraged if you're met with an eye-roll. Even brief conversations about the future can motivate them to start thinking about the year ahead and beyond.

Below are conversation topics designed to open the door to an ongoing dialogue with your student about their college experience and future plans.

1. Check In

You'll want to catch up in a more casual way with before, say, confronting your student with questions about their strategy for an on-time graduation (interrogation is so not part of the holiday spirit!).

Find out what classes they enjoyed, which ones they barely survived, and how they feel about their overall college experience. Do they know what courses they’re taking next term? What are they most excited about? Is there anything they want to do differently?

2. New Year’s Goals

With the new year right around the corner, ask them if they have any academic or personal goals. You can always start by sharing your own goals to get the dialogue going. Improving grades, starting a job, or joining a campus organization are great examples, if they’re stuck. Their college or university is sure to offer resources to help them achieve their goals.

3. Post-College Life

The goals discussion can segue easily into a conversation about post-college plans. Even first-year students should at least begin thinking about life after graduation. Do they want to travel? Secure an entry-level position in their chosen field? Use this opportunity to explore ideas they may not have considered or that may seem out of reach — and then discuss how to achieve them.

4. Career Possibilities

Any talk about the future will probably lead to a conversation about careers. Ask your students if they have specific jobs in mind, and how they might break into the field. The upcoming year may be a good time to start plotting a path forward to their professional life. If they don’t know much about their career of interest, you can help them do a little light research on the job market, types of entry-level positions, and required level of experience and education.

Do they draw a blank when you ask what kinds of employment intrigue them? Encourage them to reflect on the kind of work environment they think they'd enjoy: an office setting, large or small, corporate or casual? Do they want to be on the move during the course of the day rather than in front of a computer? Maybe they want to build stuff or work outdoors. What kinds of jobs connect with these preferences?

5. Grad School

Depending on your student’s career path, graduate school may be a good idea. A master’s or doctoral degree can provide students with knowledge and skills that make them more competitive in the job market. For example, an MBA may help your student if they want to pursue a business-related field, while a master’s in education can benefit them if they want to teach or drive policy change at schools or private organizations.

However, graduate degrees are typically recommended if you’re confident about your future profession. A student who isn't sure what they want to do can research programs but should hold off on applying and enrolling until they're certain an advanced degree will help them achieve their goals and be a good investment.

Send Them Off Inspired

Regardless of how much your students are engaged with their future plans, conversations like these give you a chance to encourage, inspire and motivate them. They may be feeling a little worn-down after the fall term, and will appreciate a reminder of what all this hard work is for — and what they need to do along the way to achieve their dreams.

Brian Soika is a writer and musician living in Los Angeles. He works in enrollment services at the USC Rossier School of Education and, as a dad to twin toddlers, is very tired.
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