Tips for Encouraging Your Student to Pursue Their Dreams

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By Lorena Roberts, Uloop

Whether you’re the parent of a new college student and you’re walking into their freshman year, or if you’re a parent of a fifth-year senior who still doesn’t know what to do with their life, encouraging your student to pursue their dreams is one of the most important parts of being a parent. I can’t tell you how many times I heard my fellow college students say they were a pre-medicine major because that’s what their family expected them to do. Not because they had a passion for helping people, or because they were interested in medicine. I also can’t tell you how many college freshmen I met who would say they were a pre-medicine major because that’s what their family wanted them to do, with an art minor because that’s “what they really loved.”

So when it comes to helping your student decide what they’re going to focus their undergraduate career on, I encourage you to think about how you chose your career field. Did someone force you into it because you make pretty good money? Did you choose it because you wanted to wake up every day and do what you love?

If you’re looking for ways to encourage your student to pursue their dreams, here are some tips to help you out:

Visit a career development center.

If you feel like you and your student are starting at square one and you’re completely overwhelmed with your options, taking an aptitude test and talking with a career advisor might be a good place to start. If your student is already situated on campus, encourage them to look into the career services department that is housed on every college campus. If your student is beginning college this fall, encourage them to visit career services once the semester begins. Even if they’ve already been admitted as a certain major, it’s not a problem to switch within the first few semesters.

Don’t be scared of “undecided.”

If your student is undecided or has not declared a major yet, do not worry. Pressuring your student into choosing something just because you’re uncomfortable with their “undecided” declaration is not the right parenting move. Encourage your student to use the first two semesters taking classes in a number of different departments. Sometimes college is the first experience students have with topics like psychology, astronomy, and political science. Most departments will even offer a 100-level exploration course specifically designed for students to explore whether or not they have an interest in that specific subject. Being “undecided” doesn’t mean you’re going to be in college forever. It means you’re being smart about getting your education on the right track without sinking your family in $40,000 worth of debt.

Abandon your preconceived notions about certain majors.

It’s likely been a while since you were in college – so things aren’t exactly the same. Whatever you think you know about being an engineering major or an art history major, you probably don’t. Think back to when your mother taught you “if you don’t have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut.”

If it’s not going to encourage your student or foster their excitement, I would just keep it to yourself. This is their journey. Not yours.

Consider your financial situation.

College students across the country are drowning under student loans. This isn’t anything you don’t already know. So I’m sure the finances of your child going to college make you nervous. But it shouldn’t make you nervous enough to discourage them from chasing their dreams.

Think of this as an investment. Not only in their education, but in their development as an adult — as a human being. College is where you discover your likes and dislikes. It’s where you become who you are. It’s the starting point for the rest of your life. Don’t jeopardize them of that opportunity because you’re worried about money. You know what smart financial decisions are and are not. Sit down with your student and chat about how much college is going to cost. Make sure they know that this isn’t just about “C’s getting degrees,” it’s about making every dollar count.

Help your student network with your colleagues.

If your student is having trouble deciding “what they want to be when they grow up,” encourage them to job shadow your friends/colleagues. Introduce them to the world of finance, education, engineering, and political science. Give them a chance to experience what it would be like to have a career in a variety of fields. You’ll be doing them a favor by giving them a taste of all a university has to offer them. They’ll be able to build a dream based on those experiences, and you’ll be right behind them every step of the way.

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