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 they hates their major. They’re devastated. You’re devastated. You’re both at least a little scared. Perhaps it’s the courses they’re now taking that sealed the deal. Or perhaps they had an internship or opportunity to get out in the field and hated the experience. Your student’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 they 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 their senior year, they 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 your student 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 an internship is giving them second thoughts, one thing to consider is whether it was the career or the setting. Help your student think specifically about what they 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 them to try another internship in a different environment.
If your student has not done an internship, but is having second thoughts, encourage them to try one. They may find that coursework in the classroom is very different from the real-world application of the skills that they are 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 a degree and then look for a job that 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. They 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 their schedule during senior year for additional courses, they 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, your student will complete the original major, but also complete a minor either in a related or totally different field. This will give your student at least some courses in a new area and help them 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 their major, your student may decide to change direction by looking at a graduate degree or professional certificate later. Right now, they may simply need to buckle down and focus on finishing up those final few courses and degree. Your student is almost at the finish line. While they are finishing, they can work with the Career Office at the school to talk about options and alternatives. They can remember that in the world today, many people change jobs — and entire careers — frequently, and your student 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 the future. If they have been on one path for a long time and suddenly finds that path is no longer right, it may require a shift in identity. This can be hard — but it can also be freeing. Your student may have been struggling more than they realized, and finally choosing a different path may provide new options. Your patience and understanding will help.
Encourage and support your student. Continue to help them find positive ways to move forward, look to the future, and enjoy those final college experiences, even while finishing last steps in their current major.