Tips for Parents of Prospective College Students

Choosing a career/choosing a major

Security vs. adventure. Accountant, Peace Corps volunteer, journalist, college professor. Ultimately, your son or daughter should make the choice. Of course, you may want to mention factors to consider, such as job market demand, salary ranges, long-range opportunities, skills required, etc. Just because an occupation is “hot” now does not mean it will be equally in demand in 10 years or that your child has the aptitude or motivation for it.

Choosing to double major/choosing a major and minor

Most employers do not place a premium on a double major. It usually requires an extra one or two semesters to obtain a second major and does not particularly enhance a student’s marketability. Exceptions would be a second major or a major and minor chosen for a specific career, such as English and chemistry for technical writing, or a health policy major and business minor for hospital administration. Of course, some students may choose to double major primarily for academic/intellectual purposes.

Grade point average (GPA)

Some students who get off to a rocky start eventually pull up their grades; however, this can be very difficult to do. Advanced placement credits and study abroad courses generally do not count in the computation of a student’s GPA Some employers use GPA cutoffs in considering applicants. Other employers stress the student’s overall background: experience, number of hours worked during the school year to finance college, leadership activities, etc. Encourage your son or daughter to make academics a high priority beginning with his or her freshman year. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that it may take him or her a while to adjust to the rigorous academic demands of college.

Obtaining marketable skills

Most employers today put more emphasis on graduates’ skills than on their academic majors. Encourage your son or daughter to develop strengths in at least two or three of the following areas:

  • Computer skills (e.g., programming, word processing, spreadsheets, data base management, e-mail, Internet);
  • Quantitative skills (e.g., accounting, statistics, economics);
  • Communication skills (e.g., written and oral);
  • Marketing/selling skills (e.g., sales, publicity, fundraising);
  • Scientific skills (e.g., lab skills, scientific research);
  • Foreign language skills (e.g., especially French, Japanese, Mandarin, or German);
  • Leadership skills (e.g., supervisory, extracurricular leadership roles, teamwork/team leader).

Leadership activities

Many employers rate leadership activities even more highly than GPA. Students who were very active in high school activities may be less involved in college extracurricular activities. However, employers regard high school as “ancient history” for a college senior. It is more valuable for a student to be involved in a few meaningful leadership roles on campus than to be in a “laundry list” of many campus clubs.

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