Advice for College Freshmen: Play it Safe or Follow your Passion?

Posted June 8, 2013 by Parenting Through School Years.

college student parent guidance graduation

A rainbow of purple, yellow, white or green caps and gowns have marched across many stages this spring.  Maybe you were fortunate enough to hang a Congratulations Graduate banner above your own doorway.  We still have about 4 years left before it’s our turn to cheer our oldest as she walks across the stage to graduate high school.  But, as fast as crawling, walking and middle school crept upon us, I expect it will not be long before she and I are hunting the stores for the perfect comforter set and matching rugs to ensure her dorm room feels like home away from home.  One things for sure, when the times comes to send her to college we will have to provide her with more than a stockpile of non-perishable snacks and hair care products to last her until Thanksgiving.
Before the hunt for matching comforter sets and non-perishable snacks, my husband and I will be faced with the extremely daunting task of guiding her into a major to pursue.   Helping to choose a college major ranks up there with imparting the importance of character, vegetables and books. It is like the final-Jeopardy round where the question is: what do you want to be when you grow up?
This week the tween to-be in our house wants to be a lawyer.  A few months ago it was a musician and before that a chef.  I relish in her search to find her niche.  I can almost hear the Disney theme song, When You Wish Upon a Star, playing in her head as she rattles off what she will do once she graduates from college and becomes rich.
I do my best to insert reality into her twelve year old mind. But it is not always easy. For example:
12 y.o.: ‘I want to move to N.Y.!’   Me.: ‘N.Y. is expensive’.  12 y.o.: “It’s not thaaat expensive.’
12 y.o.: ‘I want a car.’  Me: ‘A car is expensive’. 12y.o: ‘I know. I’ll just get a job.’
While I am certain of the benefits of organic foods and bedtime stories I am less than certain about what type of college major advice to dispense to any of my children. For instance,
  • I don’t want to dash their career dreams, but at the same time the Black-White wealth gap is real and widening and the gender pay gap is not much better.
  • If they choose a liberal arts degree African Americans who major in this field earn an average salary of $40,000.  (While White American liberal arts degree holders, however, can expect an average of $50,000.).
  • If they choose a major like engineering they can expect a median salary of $55,000 upon graduating, while graduates with a degree in the arts median salary is $30,000
It’s difficult to expect someone to understand all of these dynamics when they don’t pay bills and their focus day in and out revolves around boys/girls, video games, who said what to whom, UGGS or TOMS.
My mama and daddy encouraged me to be practical in choosing a college major. My parents, first generation college graduates, grew up in a time when many Blacks took up careers as either teachers or preachers.  I was never limited to the career option of a teacher or preacher, but my parents placed stipulations on financing my college career.  My mama and daddy agreed to my initial choice of majoring in biology as they could clearly see it leading me into either medical school or a science classroom.  They did not however have the same sense of telepathy when I informed them one day, during my sophomore year of college that I wanted to major in African American studies.
“What kind of job can you get with that?” was my mama’s first question.
I eventually went on to major in African American Studies anyway and proved that my parents had a point after all.  I have no doubt that my parents wanted me to have fulfillment when I wake for another day of work.  But, they knew what is more apparent to me now: middle/working-class reality oftentimes dictates that bills supersede passion, particularly if you are not Born Rich or have the Born on Third Base Factor.  When the time for college finally arrives for our three, hopefully they are up for taking advice about choosing a college major.  I am almost positive though that we may have to talk louder than the Disney theme music merry-go-rounding in their heads.

What kind of college major advice do you plan on giving to your children?

 

 

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