Guest Author - Valerie Eichel, Ph.D.
It is reasonable that seventeen-year-olds might not know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. Similarly, it is just as reasonable that any seventeen-year-old might not know what college major to declare. Add to this, that there are hundreds of majors available to today’s college students, and that new fields and careers continually emerge in our global marketplace. The result makes the possible choices far more complicated. Young students, therefore, need the latitude to explore different areas of study, discover what will quench their thirst for knowledge and satisfy their personal ambitions. As a general rule, choosing a major should help identify a career direction, not necessarily determine a specific career. College should be a journey of exploration, self-discovery and enrichment leading to many possible pathways to a career. Even so, it is never too soon for your child to identify his or her “passion”.
Parents can help even young children to begin exploring what they might like as a future direction. The first steps should begin with school, extracurricular activities, hobbies and interests. Notice what school subjects your kids enjoy. Where do they excel? What particular assignments captivate them? What directions might those assignments indicate? Help your kids to realize and appreciate what comes naturally to them. Are there after school activities they enjoy or might like to try? In what activities or topics do they tend to lose themselves and spend hours? Do your children have hobbies that might potentially provide clues? Is there a particular subject about which they constantly ask questions?
Let’s look at some examples of the many directions an interest might take. A child who cannot tear himself or herself away from computer games might be hinting at a fascination with something like computer sciences, computer system design, software development, engineering, robotics, automation, artificial intelligence technology, digital communications, media or multimedia communications or production, game design, web design, graphic design, digital art, animation, sound technology, special effects, film editing or production, social psychology or, even, applied mathematics or game theory. There are many different directions that a youthful fascination can take, accommodating many different levels of ability.
As another example, a youngster who spends every waking minute on the baseball field and collects baseball cards might find satisfaction in sports history, physical education, athletic training, sports management, coaching, sports equipment design or engineering, sports medicine, physical therapy, sports writing, recreation management, talent scouting or the hospitality field. Additionally, this child might ultimately pursue product design, advertising, mass communications, special products marketing, public relations, human resources, merchandizing, finance, business administration, or statistics. All can apply, in some way, to a devotion to a sport.
The point is that a childhood love might be a hint about a future passion and from it a wealth of opportunities and a variety of directions can evolve. There are all kinds of ways a creative parent can guide children to explore future paths.
Help your children to become accustomed to talking to people with different professions. Encourage them to ask questions about what people do and how they became interested in their fields. Ask people you know if there are any special arrangements that can be made for a youngster who is showing an interest in that person’s job or, alternatively, if he or she might devote an hour to a conversation. Another great path for exploration exists on the many college and university campuses or industrial settings that conduct summer programs. Each is designed to provide age-appropriate learning experiences for youngsters and is a good way to test out or cultivate interests.
High school students might find a part-time job or a summer internship that will allow field-testing an interest without making a long-term commitment to it. If they like it, they can find other opportunities to explore the field further or it may be just enough to know that a college major or career in that area would be a big mistake.
Arrange both formal and informal “field trips”. The emerging scientist might enjoy a glimpse into a field of science by visiting a laboratory or museum, attending a local or regional science fair, hiking or camping with family members, working on an environmental reclamation or town beautification project or taking a public tour of a business facility. The budding writer might like to attend a creative writing experience program, write for the school paper, attempt to publish in a children’s periodical or volunteer to read to little children at the local library. The actor or actress in the family might try an acting gig with a local community theater, attend performances at a local college campus or also read to little ones at the local library. Diverse opportunities for exploration, like these, exist for kids. They might find something to love, discover they don’t love what they thought they did or find a whole new passion.
The important thing is to keep an eye on the big picture—there are many clues that a vigilant parent can help a child discover. Acknowledge and understand that kids change their minds about what they want to do and need ample opportunities to explore many different paths before the right one might present itself. And when they finally go off to college, remember–– “undeclared” is often the largest major on campus.
Dr. Eichel attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst as an undergraduate, then UCLA where she received her M.S. and Ph.D. in areas of human development and also held both administrative and teaching positions. There, she acquired university student services administration background, including serving as a Learning Skills Counselor, directing a mentor program for college freshmen and transfer students to ease their adjustment to school, and specializing in high school and college tutorials to identify and remediate academic issues. While at UCLA, she created an application procedure program for college students applying to graduate and professional schools.
When she returned to Massachusetts, Dr. Eichel continued working with students and families, helping guide them through the college and university application process. Her educational consulting practice, Pathways Consulting Services, is located in the Boston MetroWest area, where she specializes in the college planning process, tailored to the applying student’s needs. In addition to her private practice, currently she is also working with the British School of Boston.