An open letter to parents…
Hi, parents. This one’s for you. I’ll be addressing newbie college students in the future.
By this time, you should be hearing back from college applications. Don’t worry. Your kid will get in somewhere. Don’t worry about that financial aid thing. It’ll eventually work itself out, and it’s a lot like buying a car–the first offer might not be the one you wind up signing. But I’m not going to talk about that today.
This is the time you’re anticipating, and I’m sure it’s a bit scary. Your kid is going to be leaving the house for the Big U. College is unlike any other experience he/she has probably had, and it can also be one of the greatest times of his/her life. Here’s the biggest suggestion I can possibly offer: it’s your kid’s life.
Your kid may decide to switch majors. This is normal and expected. I didn’t settle on a major for my BA until my Junior year. What they thought they might like, they may find they hate. They may discover some love of another field that they never knew they’d like. I thought I was going to major in applied music, until I had a severe RSI caused by practicing and rehearsals. You never know what’s going to happen, and they need the freedom to discover what and who they are. Just because they share DNA with you doesn’t mean that they’ll follow in your footsteps, or the footsteps of what you wanted to do. After all, this is the moment you raised them for: to have some sort of independent existence. If you did your job–which I’m sure you did–they’ll make good choices and be good people.
Please, please, please, dear God, please refrain from manipulating your kid’s class choices by asserting the fact that you’re paying for their college. One, go back and read the previous paragraph. Two, consider the effect it will have on your kid. Either they’ll defy you and take it anyway, or there’s going to be resentment and bad blood. If you don’t mind resentment and bad blood, consider what kind of adult relationship you want with your kid. If you don’t mind tension and discord, please remind them often of the fact that you’re paying for their college. If you want them to have their own life and cherish you, then remember how charity should be given: lovingly and in secret.
As to majoring in something they can get a job in…it was fashionable to double major in computer science when I was an undergrad. People thought that they could always find a gig, if their chosen field didn’t pan out. Fast forward 3 years. The dotcom bust happened, and there were a lot of computer science double majors bagging groceries. You never know what the job market is going to do. If your kid majors in something they love, odds are they’ll find a way to make it work for them. These days, those who can forge their own way have a better shot at making it.
I know what I’m writing about, because my family doesn’t approve of what I study. There was tension throughout my BA; they didn’t speak to me much through my MFA; and now there’s open hostility. Yeah, if your kid truly loves a discipline and has some talent in it, they’ll find a way to do it. It wasn’t easy, but I did get into graduate school. What they want to do with their lives may not make sense, and it may seem like they’re destined to live in your basement with a degree in a non-lucrative field. But you know what? They’ll find a way to live, if they’re determined. It’s hard to starve in this country, if you’re willing to work. Wouldn’t you rather share in their success?