You’re almost at the finish line. You’ve made it through that somewhat scary freshman year, the potential sophomore slump, junior year, and your student is now top of the heap – a senior! It’s time for celebration and planning for Commencement.
But then it happens. Your student decides that she hates her major. She’s devastated. You’re devastated. You’re both at least a little scared. Perhaps it’s the courses she’s now taking that sealed the deal. Or perhaps she had an internship or opportunity to get out in the field and she hated the experience. She’s upset, depressed and at a loss. And so are you. What now?
It’s a very difficult situation and it’s natural to be upset. Discovering late in the college experience that your major doesn’t seem right can feel overwhelming. And, as is often the case, it’s almost harder as a parent to watch your student be so unhappy. But the situation is not unique. Many students have second, and third, and fourth, thoughts about major and career – even in their senior year.
What you and your student need to do now is know your options and create a plan of action. Of course, this needs to be your student’s decision, but she will need your support.
Option #1 – Change major
Changing major is always an option. However, some majors are easier to change than others. And if your student does choose to change major at this point in her senior year, she should expect to spend at least an additional year in school, perhaps two. This is a big shift, a big investment – of both time and money – and she will need to consider carefully whether it is worth it.
Option #2 – Think about the benefits of an internship
One of the benefits of doing an internship for some students is that it solidifies their determination that they love their major and chosen career path. For other students, the benefit is that they find that their chosen path may not be right – but they find out earlier than after they have taken a full time job after college.
If your student’s dislike of her internship is giving her second thoughts, one thing to consider is whether it was the career or the setting. Help your student think specifically about what she disliked so much about the internship. Was it the place, the environment, the people, the work?
Many careers are performed in various settings. Working in a large, urban, corporate setting, for instance, may be very different from working in a small, relaxed, office. Nursing in an intensive care unit at a large teaching hospital will be very different from nursing in a local pediatrician’s office. Help your student determine whether it may have been the setting rather than the work and whether there are other options. Encourage her to try another internship in a different environment.
If your student has not done an internship, but is having second thoughts, encourage her to try one. She may find that coursework in the classroom is very different from the real-world application of the skills that she is learning.
Option #3 – Think more broadly
Remind your student that a major usually does not lead to a single career, and a career may often be reached through several majors. Majors are areas of study, and your student can complete her degree and then look for a job that she feels suits her better. Having a college degree matters a lot, the major may or may not matter as much. One major can take a student in many directions. And one career may be reached through many avenues. Encourage your student to talk to as many adults in as many professions as possible and ask about their undergraduate majors. She may be surprised to find how many people are working in careers that have little to do with their original college major.
Option #4 – Develop a strong minor
If your student has room in her schedule during senior year for additional courses, she may work at developing a minor. College minors often require only a few courses – and perhaps your student already has taken some that would qualify. Rather than changing major, she will complete her original major, but also complete a minor either in a related or totally different field. This will give her at least some courses in a new area and help her discover new interests and new directions.
Option #5 – Focus on finishing and change direction later
In addition to finding a job that is unrelated or only loosely related to her major, your student may decide to change direction by looking at a graduate degree or professional certificate later. Right now, she may simply need to buckle down and focus on finishing up her final few courses and her degree. She is almost at the finish line. While she is finishing, she can work with the Career Office at her school to talk about options and alternatives. She can continue to remind herself that in the world today, many people change jobs – and entire careers – frequently, and she is beginning on that path a bit earlier.
There is a path
As a parent, one of your most important tasks will be to help your student find perspective in this situation. Although you may feel a wave of panic, try to remain calm and help your student think about options. There are always options.
Your student may be struggling with a new way of thinking about herself and her future. If she has be on one path for a long time and suddenly finds that path is no longer right for her, it may require a shift in her identity. This can be hard – but it can also be freeing. Your student may have been struggling more than she realized, and finally choosing a different path may give her new options. Your patience and understanding will help.
Encourage and support your student. Continue to help her find positive ways to move forward, look to the future, and enjoy her final college experiences, even while she is finishing last steps in her current major.