This really continues the theme of the last post on this subject, because to start with if your child hasn't a clue what they want to study they are not ready for college. It might be smarter for them to "find themselves" outside university before they consider it.
I say this knowing that many of my tenured colleagues would disagree, arguing that exploring interests and developing "critical thinking skills" are what undergraduate degrees are for.
I understand that point of view but to be really honest I think it comes from another time. When I was in university it was entirely possible to work for a summer and pay for a complete school year. Many people did that and as a result that time was sort of the golden age of the permanent student.
What we have now are kids who are working 1, 2, 3 part-time jobs while they study (something I never had to do during the school year) and still graduating with debts that will handicap them, postponing things like marriage, children, or buying a house, right into the years when financial planners say they should be well into putting together solid retirement savings.
For these kids getting through school is a struggle between deadlines, fatigue and work conflicts. The average debt my students graduate with from one undergraduate degree is $30,000 plus and this is often when they have had family help. The bill is many, many times that for further professional and graduate degrees.
We have to be careful that an education that is meant to open doors doesn't close them.
So before any parent panics and pushes a kid into a program, any program, because a university degree is a ticket to security, they need to be honest about whether that child is really ready or the program is really right.
After all my nephew came home from work the other night and told me he is bussing tables with a graduate with a B.A. and I know the manager of the local Dairy Queen has a B. Sc. How would you like to be working those jobs with the kind of debt I described?
My thoughts on choosing undergraduate programs:
There are two kinds of under grad degrees. The ones that qualify you to apply to a graduate program with a specific outcome and under grad degrees that put you right in the work force.
Back to the B.A. and B. Sc. Many kids of course parlay these first degrees into something they can earn a living at, but to be truthful this is more often a case of their own innate hustle than anything they were taught in school. In most cases the B.A. will have to apply to a subsequent program, law, business etc. and the B. Sc. will have to go on and study further in say the health sciences to have a better career.
So in general I would say that unless your child is up for embarking on more than one degree the traditional first general degree might not make a lot of sense.
As to the alternatives, this is where it gets tough for parents.
The truth is that most of us have no idea what the possibilities are out there. Just like my dad who figured any girl had three options nurse, secretary or teacher. Many great possibilities exist, we, and often high school guidance folks are not much better, just haven't heard about them.
What your student needs to do is look through university calendars in detail and be open to new programs, things they have never heard of.
And then, this is most important, go through the actual courses carefully to see if those courses are something worth getting out of bed on a Monday at 8:30 to go learn about.
The course thing is really important.
Over and over I hear students say "this degree isn't what I expected it to be, I never thought I would have to do some much (math, writing, biology, numbers) etc." All that would have been clearer if the student had gone carefully over the courses.
It is also useful and very relevant to ask the institution what per centage of grads are working in the field after graduation. Many don't keep track (which is a message in itself) but this might be interesting. I personally like undergraduate degrees of the qualifying kind that have a co-op or internship option. Those programs generally have a better track record with post graduation employment and tend to be better at making sure employable skills are taught for obvious reasons.
Finally this is my best career choosing advice.
Ask your child what their ideal adult work day would look like. Ask them about what they would wear, where they would live, how they would travel to work, what the work day feels like.
My nephew for instance said he wants to wear a suit and have a job where he knows what is expected everyday and where he has a clear idea when the work day begins and ends.
My youngest son, the one in the shirt, on the other hand regretted four years he spent doing business after one winter in an office. He knows himself better now and is so much happier out and about building and it now going back to school to do something technical. Why did we think the guy who never sat still, who could hardly stay at the table long enough to finish a meal before he ran off to some project, could live at a desk?
So once your potential student has this end day in mind work back to the kind of education that will get her or him there.
This idea came to me after a conversation I had with an animation designer. I will always remember him telling me, "I just thought I was creative, no one ever told me that would mean I would end up in a cubicle staring at a computer screen 14 hours a day six days a week."
Think that one through.
Tomorrow more sewing and the day after that thoughts on choosing a college.