I wanted to take a moment this week and talk about something that’s a bit outside my normal range of topics: college students. If you have a college aged child, this newsletter is for you.
In the past few weeks, I’ve received a surprising number of calls and emails from concerned parents. Since this is clearly an important issue, I wanted to share a few thoughts that I hope may help.
I don’t have college aged children myself and I have a great deal of respect for those who do. My thoughts come from my own personal experience, my experience talking to others who are living these issues today, and the trends that are playing out in the job market.
Concern: My child isn’t sure what to major in.
Response: First and foremost, the most important thing to come away with from college is a degree. Most important. It is often more important to finish in four or five years than to go to school for six or seven years trying to find the perfect degree. At the end of the day, your child may or may not work in the field that their degree is in. But they will need a degree to stick out from other job interview candidates. With that said, degrees are expensive. Your child will want to pick the best one they can. Look at degrees that offer flexibility in future job prospects. For example, a computer and systems engineering degree led me to jobs and interviews in engineering, computer programming, IT management, sales engineering, manufacturing management, and project management. It’s the sort of degree that qualifies graduates to do many different types of jobs. And, if one career option goes away because the industry dies, or jobs are outsourced or automated, there are other options. With that said, it’s better to finish college than to switch majors many, many times.
Concern: My child isn’t sure what to minor in.
Response: It depends on the particular situation, but in most cases, a minor is (relatively) irrelevant. Many people even drop it off their resume after a few years. So, don’t sweat it. They should pick something they’d like to learn more about — or something that will add a level of diversity to their major. My minor is in studio art. I learned to draw and paint and sculpt. It helped to balance out my science and math classes a bit. It gave me diversity on my resume. It showed that I was multidimensional. It gave me something relatable to talk about in interviews besides engineering.
Concern: What if my child chooses a major they end up not wanting to do as a career?
Response: This is pretty normal. Don’t believe me? Ask you own coworkers what they studied in college. Chances are, you’ll be surprised. And remember, today’s college students will have many careers over the course of their lifetime. The average worker today switches jobs about every four years. It’s rare that every job will be perfectly aligned to their college education. Consider my case. I really disliked computer programming, but learning about technology gave me a leg up in other related fields.
Concern: What type of job should my child get while in college?
Response: Okay, this is where you may want to disagree. IMHO, the main purpose of college is to learn. School is a huge financial investment. It’s a big investment of time too. Their first priority should be school — going to class, studying, and learning. Period. But, a job can also be a super helpful extension of coursework — if chosen carefully. Internships can be great in college. I did four internships in college. Yes, four. Some were paid, but not all. But you know, I learned so much more at internships about what I wanted to be than I ever did in class. Try to put a little less emphasis on how much the internship pays and more on what the intern learns. We pay so much to go to school to learn what’s in books. Why do we really care if we are paid a real salary to learn at a job while in college? And, having internships on their resume will greatly increase their chances of getting a great job that pays real money upon graduation.
Concern: How can my child start to pinpoint which jobs they might like?
Response: Professors, mentors, the college career department, and internships can all be a great help in this area. Just remember, this takes time to figure out and your child may have multiple different careers over their life. It’s normal that there’s more than one answer to the question. But, if they’re struggling to get started, try asking them to take the Myers Briggs personality assessment. It often gives insightful suggestions on careers to consider. (If you don’t have access to the paid version of the test, there are a few free versions online that may help with ideas.)
Concern: How can my child learn more about a particular job or career?
Response: Informational interviews!! These are the best, and they’re free. As a college student, many professionals will want to help your child. They’ll be open to meeting and sharing more about their own careers. If your child isn’t sure where to start with this, check out episode 101 of the Copeland Coaching Podcast. I interview Zachary Croteau, who landed multiple jobs in college using this simple technique.
Concern: My child is choosing a career field that won’t pay enough to keep the lights on. Help!
Response: This is tough. Work isn’t always fun and when we pursue a degree that’s a hobby, we might be surprised at the end how little jobs pay. If I were advising someone on this, I’d recommend first that the student create a sample after college budget. One that contains rent, utilities, college loan payments, everything. This would help to setup a target desired salary range. Then, I’d check out sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor.com. They contain tons of great salary information. Some jobs pay $20K after college while others pay $60K. These sites can help to identify which jobs are which.
Concern: Should my child go straight to grad school?
Response: It depends. With a field like engineering, the answer can be yes. With a field such as business, the answer is often no. Delaying grad school is a good idea when the child wants to get more experience under their belt — or they aren’t sure if it’s the right field for them. Just don’t delay too long. Shoot to finish graduate work by age 30 if possible. It’s a better long investment financially, and it makes it easier to focus on the increased commitment levels that come with age.
Concern: My child had to take on student loans to pay tuition. Help!
Response: Sadly, this is part of the world today for most people. With the high price of tuition, there are rarely options to get through school without loans unless you’re lucky enough to have scholarships. Most schools are considerably more expensive today than thirty years ago. Look at the loans as an investment in their future career (as long as they aren’t abusing them). Below is an image Bloomberg.com released demonstrating the rise intuition since 1978. This shocking data is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Concern: How can I help my child?
Response: One way to help is to share resources and ideas like this email. But remember, a lot of the growth and learning your child will get comes through struggle. You probably had the same difficult experience in your twenties. Struggle isn’t all bad. It can help a young person to figure out who they are and what they want. Don’t discount its value. It short changes the learning process.
These are my thoughts. Like I said, this has been such a common question lately that I wanted to take a moment to share some thoughts. I hope these are helpful, and may provide a foundation for additional thoughts and discussion.