It is college application time. While kids scamper to put the application packages together, parents fret and worry about the choice of degree and choice of colleges. While the kids are busy rating how "party" friendly the different schools are, parents are busy trying to figure out how "pocket" friendly they will be. A teenager's idea of a cool career is bound to be different from their parents' idea. Unsurprisingly, this could lead to a lot of flare ups when parents don't quite agree with their children's choice and the children don't want their parents to interfere.
Consider for example the case of my colleague. She wants to make sure that her daughter goes into a major that will lead to good career prospects. She wants her daughter to lead a worry-free life. My colleague is a brilliant engineer. As a first generation immigrant, she knows what it is like to struggle through life to get to a financially comfortable position. She wants to protect her daughter from having to go through what she considers "unnecessary pains" of making bad career choices. She feels that her children have a lot more opportunity and guidance than she did when she was younger and so they must be able to coast through life. She would prefer for her daughter to major in engineering. If her daughter must rebel she wishes it were to pursue a professional degree like law or medical school :)
He daughter on the other hand wants to pursue fine arts. She is an honor student with several advanced placement classes under her belt. But in her senior year in high school she was influenced by her peers into thinking that professional degrees are for dorks and losers. And now she wants to pursue a fine arts degree.
Which degree (or discipline in general) is better is only one of arguments that they have. Which college to send apps to is another huge point of contention. Some of the schools of choice for the daughter come at a hefty price tab of $40,000 per year. And they are known "party" schools. My colleague has the money stashed up, but it took a lot of blood and sweat to raise that money. She believes it is a complete waste to throw it away on an arts degree from an expensive party school.
I don't think there is anything very unique about my colleague’s situation. This drama is played out over and over every year in thousands of households across the country. Parents in their infinite wisdom want to protect their children from making stupid mistakes. They want to give their children the opportunities they perceive that they were not provided. They want to save their children from making some of the mistakes they did.
The children on the other hand are not really children anymore, but young adults. They believe that they know what they want. They want to stand for themselves and what they believe is their best option.
So, should the parents try to influence their children’s choices?
I believe that if the parents are paying for the education, they have every right to set some ground rules. Unless the parents inherited the money themselves, they must be able to have some influence over what and how their hard-earned money gets spent.
Now, if the parents can't afford to pay the children's college expenses and the child is actually taking out a loan, things get a bit dicey. Some of my friends believe that the parents don't really have a right to interfere in such a situation. I disagree. I think that it is a parent's responsibility to prevent the children from making what might be a choice that they will regret later in life. Just like a parent would never allow a child to walk into a busy street with a lot of traffic, they should also try to protect their children from burdening themselves with huge college debt for majors that can't provide for them in later life. The children may not listen, and they may fight back, but that didn't stop you from teaching them the right thing to do when they were younger and wanted to play with a knife!
It’s easier said than done. But there are ways in which this can be achieved. For instance, in my colleague’s case, they have established a truce of sorts now. My colleague has convinced her daughter to consider a degree in computer animation. Since a degree in computer animation requires her daughter to take some computer courses as pre-requisites, she feels comforted, that later in life if push comes to shove, her daughter can work as a software programmer. Her daughter has agreed to the option since a degree in animation will allow her to explore her creative side. As for the school they are still working it out :) The current offer on the table is that my colleague must allow her daughter to go to any school that the daughter can obtain at least 50% financial aid. In some schools (particularly the one that the daughter wants to go to), that is still a huge amount. But I am sure they will find a way to resolve it.
What would you do if your kids wanted to take up a major that you firmly believe will not prepare them for life in the real world? What if it involves taking our a huge student loan? How did your parents try to convince you?
In the mean time, if you are looking for some resources to share with your kids, here are some good starters –
- Is your degree worth $1 million -- or worthless?
(A must-read if you are dealing with this situation!)
- ‘Top Chef’ Dreams Crushed by Student Loan Debt
- Is a Graduate Degree Worth the Debt?
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