Is your college-bound child undecided in their major? It’s understandable if they are. Being asked to select a major for college while still in high school can be frustrating for your teen.
Parents, here’s a simple way to get the conversation started. Doing this exercise can benefit their future college applications (as well as their experience as an enrolled student) by targeting the right course work and extracurricular activities to maximize college admission options.
Step one: sit down with your student, preferably in 9th or 10th grade.
Step two: draw a triangle.
Step three: follow the graphic and instructions below.
As you can see, three P's pin down each corner of the triangle in this image.
(Yes, there is a fourth P, but it’s part of the result, not part of the process!)
The pinnacle P stands for passion. No one gets far without that. Ask your student to brainstorm a list of five things they absolutely love to do. What makes them come alive? What drives them? Some parents have known from a very young age what their children are really excited by. Today’s Lego enthusiast is often tomorrow’s architect or engineer.
The second P stands for proficiency. Here students need to be very honest with themselves: they should list five academic and five non-academic abilities they possess. Although grades are one indicator, ease of study is another. What comes naturally to them? What innate talents and aptitudes do they possess?
The last criterion for determining a career path, and therefore a major, is that rascally little P that makes the world go round: profitability, or the ability to actually monetize that passion and proficiency. If what a student loves and is good at doesn't in the end gave them a sustainable lifestyle, investing
$100,000 or more in a college education doesn't make a lot of sense. Have them research income levels for careers related to each of the responses they’ve given. What economic security can they realistically hope to attain in each?
At the intersection of passion, proficiency, and profitability shines a magical fourth P: purpose. Without preemptively carving decisions in stone, here are a few statements of purpose students have given in this exercise over my past 20 years as a counselor—statements that I’ve seen ignite passion, proficiency, and profits.
- To serve infants and children in need through my work as a pediatric surgeon
- To create Oscar-winning screenplays that raise human awareness
- To adopt several children with physical disabilities and establish a political advocacy group dedicated to protecting the rights of citizens with special needs
- To build a civil engineering business dedicated to creating sustainable, green cities all over America
Notice that each of these young people had an “other” in mind as they set their goals. Although our culture often encourages teens to frame goals with inflated talk of fancy cars and big houses, when you scratch the surface what they are really hoping to create is a sense of security and purpose.
Helping teens decipher for themselves what they can give before they get all tangled up in what they might get will often pull them from empty material things to the relationships that generally lead to actual joy in life. And hey, if they can drive home from their purpose-fueled job in a fancy car, more power to them.