Families Aren't Choosing a Major for Their Kids, but How Can They Help?

by Naomi Mannino

At most colleges, students are choosing a major by the end of their sophomore year. This gives them four semesters to explore different interests. This time can be a gift to check out different options, but the time to choose a major might arrive sooner than expected. Students may be overwhelmed at the thought of picking just one major they think might dictate the rest of their lives. As a parent, the trick is to encourage your child to explore and think about him or herself in a new way, while ultimately supporting the major chosen.

Explore Strengths, Weaknesses, Passions, and Interests

Family members may know a lot about their student’s passions in high school, but many young adults develop new interests in college when they are exposed to different people and ideas. Your student is likely to discover new and exciting things, such as volunteering through the Office of Spiritual Life, taking the Metro into Los Angeles to visit a museum or concert, or being inspired by the subject of an elective class. These new experiences strengthen your child’s sense of self and decision-making abilities.

Try talking with your student about his or her interests to show how a college major could be useful toward a particular future career. As an exercise, you might use a visual SWOT analysis, a four-part grid many companies use to make decisions. Students can list their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (obstacles) to see where they align on paper. Or, have them list personal strengths alongside a list of favorite activities. Determine connections between the two and match them with an industry or career title.

An online quiz and analysis may also spark career ideas based on strengths and interests.

Learn More About Careers and Specific Job Titles

Most young adults have not been exposed to the inner workings of large corporations and organizations. Thus, they are not aware of all job titles. Exploring the online Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) can introduce them to specific careers and jobs. It can also teach them about the requirements, average salaries, and outlook of each job title. For example, a student who loved announcing the play-by-plays at high school sports games could explore all of the occupations under Entertainment and Sports, and Media and Communication. There, many related sports industry jobs may be uncovered. The OOH displays a list of job titles by industry and then displays all of the related careers with a job summary. When a student clicks on a title, they can see job duties, required college degrees, average salary, job outlook, a list of similar and related careers, and outside industry resources.

Explore the Majors and Specific Coursework

Once your student has determined potential careers and majors of interest, a great exercise is to explore the coursework for each related major to make sure you can be a good sounding board for your child. This helps to determine if he or she is well-suited for all of the reading and writing required for an English degree, for example, when—knowing your own son or daughter’s strengths and weaknesses—maybe the more hands-on, practical coursework of the public relations degree is more fitting.

Before your child comes to a decision on choosing a major, make sure you are informed as well. It can be exhausting, but check out all of the majors your child’s school offers so you can have an engaging conversation before a final decision is made about the major. Explore potential internship and study away opportunities as well, to see what other learning opportunities may be available.