How to Talk to Your Kids About Picking a Major

What do you do if your child tells you that they want to major in a subject like Sociology or Visual Arts - fields where they aren't likely to make a lot of money? Or what if you're worried that your child won't like their chosen major or they will struggle academically?

If you're like most parents, you want to support your student's passions and interests, but you also worry about their happiness, how they will repay their student loans and when they will get a job after graduation.

For parents who want to be part of the decision-making process when their child chooses a major, it's critical to broach the topic respectfully for a productive discussion. Here are some tips for how to do just that.

Talk About the Economics of Their Choice

It's important that your child chooses a field they're excited about, but it's important that they consider the financial implications, too. If your child hasn't yet thought about the student loan payments they'll be making after graduation, that can be a good place to start the conversation. Suggest that your child research the job prospects, as well as the entry-level and average salaries, for majors they're interested in to determine if they will earn enough to cover their debt.

You can create a sample budget so that your child can see what percent of their future paychecks would go toward student loan payments. This provides a tangible way to understand some of the consequences of pursuing a certain career path. If they know they want to major in a field that has a low average salary while they're still applying for schools, you might suggest that they go to a less expensive college or to a school that will offer them more financial or merit aid.

Suggest a Minor

Your child might be passionate about majoring in a field where their job prospects are slim and you might be afraid of discouraging them by suggesting something else. In that case, ask if they are open to minoring in that subject and majoring in a more marketable field, or vice versa if their heart is set.

Sometimes the added credential of a minor, or the particular major/minor combination, is the key to success on the job market. For example, a student with a major/minor degree in Computer Science and Psychology might be particularly attractive to application development companies interested in designing products that are intuitive to use.

Find Ways to Make the Major Marketable

If your child doesn't want to change their major or add a minor, encourage them to get job experience while in school. Internships, co-op placements in companies or work-study opportunities on campus can all be good options. Practical work experience helps ensure they will be among the most qualified job candidates graduating with their degree. Many employers won't care what students majored in if they come to a new position with relevant job experience and great references.

Make Sure It's a Good Fit

Before they make a decision, encourage your child to meet with a guidance counselor or an adviser who can help them get more clarity about the major they want to pursue. Have them talk to people who are currently working in the field and to students who are currently majoring in the subject. This will give them some of the perspective they need to determine if that major is right for them.

Encourage Them to Follow Their Dreams

Many parents worry when their children embark on paths that they believe will lead them to struggle financially, professionally or academically, and that's why they want to help their child determine how to choose a college major. When doing so, it's important to encourage your child to follow their dreams. Still, by using these suggestions, you can also give them the tools that they need to be successful no matter what.