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Dreamcasting - How to help your child choose a college major

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Do you remember how you would answer the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” when you were around five or six?

What would prompt us to do that, to ask children to speculate as to what they’d be doing in 20 or 30 years? Maybe even before they could read or write…

Maybe because when children are little, it’s easy to dream big.

They thrill to our response when we, together with them, imagine their dream job coming true. We believe they can be a firefighter or teacher or doctor or President of the United States, that there is no thing they can’t do.

But life rolls along and our kids slowly grow up overnight, and somewhere along the way we stop dreaming with them and believing their future is unbounded.


* * *


The same thing happens on at least three occasions: People reduce you to a single talking point, a one-dimensional subject, or at least that’s the way it seems.

When you get engaged…

When you’re expecting a baby…

And when you’re a high school senior.

And it’s great at first because Wedding! Baby! College! (or Job!) — each important milestones. But eventually the conversation becomes wearisome because who wants to talk about One Thing all of the time?

Though it was a lifetime ago, I still remember hating one question in particular when I was a high school senior:

What do you want to do?

I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, specifically anyway, and I envied my friends who were so sure about their intended college major.

When the question rolled around decades later for my own children, I watched them squirm, certain they, too, hated the question. It wasn’t just my own kids, I saw that deer-in-headlight expression on the faces of their friends. I did my level best not to bring it up, waiting instead, for them to talk about college if they wanted.

Understandably, those who knew what they wanted to do were much more eager to discuss their plans.

But what if your child has no idea what he wants to do other than attend college? Is there anything you can do to help?

Plant seeds.

Then watch them grow.


Would you agree you know your children better than anyone else (likely even better than they know themselves)?

  • What are the school subjects in which they don’t just excel, they delight?
  • What are the strengths from which they derive confidence and the weakness that hinder them?
  • What activities, hobbies or interests occupy the most time and space in their lives?
  • And an important consideration not to overlook, how do they play?

These are telling clues. Pay attention to them.


It’s not necessary to consider all of these things equally, but you shouldn’t discount any of them either.

With my oldest daughter, we had a general idea of what she was made for but it wasn’t contained in a neat-little-college-major box. After visiting several colleges, we found the one that offered a course of study most closely resembling her passion and interest.

Our second-born was all over the place. There was no life passion evident in him, other than love for life. He’s a jack of many trades with no one thing rising to the top. Because there was no obvious professional discipline or subject that stood out, we listened to what we knew about him to help declare a major: his personality.

We learned something valuable after going through the college-application-and-declaring-a-major-process with our older two. Our children need to know what we think. Most of the time they even want to know what we think.


As I began to consider college and future vocation for my youngest, I had a Eureka! moment where I just knew what he was born to do.  He’s our most demonstrative child, and what he loves and loathes he wears on his sleeve.

He absolutely loves thrill rides. The more daring and dangerous the roller coaster, the more eager he is to conquer it. I’m not sure if you’d call that an interest or activity but it’s definitely a passion. He comes to life just talking about them.

For fun, even during his younger teenage years, he loved building toys. Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and Legos could occupy him for hours. He loved figuring out how things went together and his persistence was always rewarded: he finished what he started.

One day while thinking about him and wondering what college would look like for him, that lightning bolt hit: roller coaster designer–the kid needed to be a civil engineer and design thrill rides.

When I pitched the idea to him (he was in 9th or 10th grade), he liked it. It made sense to him. It combined his natural affections for adventure and thrill seeking with his propensity for building and design.

He’s held onto it ever since.

Now, my point isn’t to encourage you, as the parent, to orchestrate or manipulate your child’s choice of college major or career choice! Not at all!

You need to Dream Big with your children again, out loud and in technicolor.


It will make all the difference in the world for you to pay attention to your child, note her natural affections and strengths, and then articulate one (or several) possibilities for what that could look like in college and beyond.

If you can identify career aspiration early enough, a child will be more motivated to do well in subjects that will support access to that field of study in college. It gives them a target, something to shoot for, and it engages them in the process of college selection.

Which is what we’ll continue discussing tomorrow; this post is already long and we aren’t close to exhausting this subject.

I hope you’ll be back!

And in the meantime, DO let me know in comments that you’re reading along! And though I haven’t yet responded to most, I will; if there’s something you’d like for me to tackle, I’m still planning the rest of the month and have room for YOUR ideas. Don’t be shy! I love knowing you’re here with me.


Helpful Hints and Tips for College Bound Students by Robin Dance

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