Your Kids Should Decide Their College Major, Not You

by Melissa L. Fenton
Originally Published: 

It’s ever so tempting.

I mean, one day your toddler is smashing bananas into their face, and the next day they’re around 12 years old, and you notice they have an odd propensity for disassembling the family’s desktop computer, adding more RAM to it, and then rewiring the entire household into a hi-speed LAN network. And what is the first thing that enters your mind? THIS KID IS THE NEXT STEVE JOBS and MUST major in computer science in college!

And right then and there you decide you will take the liberty of designing their high school class schedule, as well as what college they will attend, and the track of classes they will take. Oh, this is all so exciting! You have raised a computer genius! It never for a second crosses your mind that perhaps that kid’s deepest desire (and real talent) is to become a high school art teacher, or a firefighter, or a hair stylist.

There’s a great chance your personal plan for your teen’s entire life will be met with the following response: “Mom, isn’t it my future and my decision?” Which you will then meet them with, “Well, I’m paying for college, so no, it’s not only your decision.” It’s not surprising that what we’re left with after exchanges like that is an entire generation of miserable college kids, just chewing their way through four years of a predetermined future, then spat out at the other end with an education that may (if they are lucky) fill their wallets, but that does little to fill their souls.

Ultimately, you’ve got a workforce full of people not doing what they feel called or impassioned to do, likely meaning that whatever they’re doing, they’re not doing it that well.

Sharon Reed, a college professor, writes in The Washington Post about how we need to let our children choose their own college major and agrees wholeheartedly. She has seen many a student sit in her office bemoaning the pressures their parents have placed on them to study a certain thing and become a certain something. And it’s leaving most students both miserable and afraid — fearful of coming clean with their parents about what they really want to study in school.

She says, “They’re not bummed about a bad grade, or roommate problems; many of them are frustrated because they’re unhappy with their major. When I ask them why they’re studying medicine, pre-law or whatever their current field is if they’re not interested in it, I always hear the same answer: ‘My parents want me to.’ I know parents mean well, but insisting on a major that students aren’t interested in is a truly terrible thing to do to your children.”

In this recent generation of parents’ ridiculous efforts to helicopter the hell out of their children, many are now deep into the teen years and have gone from micromanaging the insignificance of middle school extracurricular activities to micromanaging the very vital (and possibly life-altering) significance of their kid’s higher education. And while one is simply an annoyance and yields few bad consequences (middle school nonsense), the other may well change your child’s future in more detrimental ways than you can imagine.

And we wonder why we’re seeing anxiety and depression skyrocket at colleges all across the country. Reed contends that students are living in fear of displeasing their parents. She says of one student, “[He] burst into tears during my office hours because he had a ‘C’ in calculus and didn’t think that he could do better. He dreaded explaining to his parents, who wanted him to be an engineer, that he was at the height of his talent for math and it wasn’t enough, nor did it make him happy.”

I don’t remember ever first consulting with my parents on what classes to take or what to major in at college. For that matter, they also had zero say in where I went to college. But that was over 25 years ago, when your average 17-year-old was closer to behaving like a 27-year-old than a 7-year-old, and way before adulting was a verb. My parents shipped me off to a four-year liberal arts college with their only advice being, “Go meet the world, take a huge variety of classes, and start figuring out who you are,” not “Please graduate in four years fully ready to work for the next 35 years at a predetermined job that you learned how to do while you were there.”

I’ll admit it: I’m very anxious about the college major decisions my son is currently making. I find myself having a hard time resisting hinting at things I think he would be good at or jobs I think he may like. For now, he just shakes his head and says, “Mom, I’ll figure it out,” and I am learning to be perfectly fine with that.

I’m also learning that I’m my happiest when he is his happiest, and if that means him pursuing the total opposite of what I want him to pursue, but being over-the-top joyful about his work, then so be it. I’ll come around.

This article was originally published on