At some point a student must realize they should be going to college for themselves, not their parents.
We can all celebrate the virtues of listening to others. It’s usually a winning trait for all of us in the business of communicating. But like every communication virtue, it can have a dark corner. Even an attentive person can be adrift. Conforming to expectations can substitute for acquiring enough self-knowledge to know what we need for ourselves.
This challenge comes up periodically as I meet young adults who are planning their college careers. They are wary and often a bit confused. In addition, most are young enough to have not put much effort into figuring out what matters. So many are intent on passing on the task of planning their future to their parents. That includes what they will do in college. When asking about their interests, I tend to get restatements of what passes for parental wisdom about not “wasting their time” with “useless” subjects. Thirty years ago it would have been unusual to hear a student tell a faculty advisor what their parents want them to study. Now it happens a lot.
So in my own field of Communication Studies, nearly all parents on a campus visit expect a tour of our television studio, even though a lot modern film and video production occurs out in the world. I think the studio is reassuring because it reminds them of a workplace. But they are several decades behind the times in terms of where the real action is in shooting video.
We all know parents. They are mostly good people and are used to being in charge. A common scenario has their young adult children skipping over the possibility of considering their own passions while uncritically accepting advice from a generation’s experiences from the dark ages. In most cases they would be better advised to follow their own star. Like Benjamin in the film classic, The Graduate, these young people are often on the verge of being locked into a narrative that is not their own.
Uploaded by wsinful on 2015-09-30.
So, of course, I have an answer for them. Sure, respect your parents’ experiences. But at some point, a student needs to realize they are going to college for themselves, not their relatives. Set aside news coverage of pathetic helicopter parents trying to buy their child’s “prestigious” education with flat-out deception. More common is the number of students in undergraduate institutions who like the aura of a college degree, but lack the self-knowledge to know what it ought to be. A course in Medieval Art? The predictable advice from anxious parents is that they are wasting their time. Many wrongly assume their son or daughter has enrolled in a kind of trade school that will yield one particular job, not a liberal arts education. Many are also unaware of fields of study and occupations that have sprung up since they graduated.
I sometimes see a student who has no interest in my field. But they are ready to take bad advice and labor on. In other cases I see students in supposedly “safe” business majors who have not noticed their own talents lie in other areas. I’ve got good news: businesses of all types are full of people without business degrees.
My hope for these students is that they will choose a course of study that excites them. If it’s Medieval art, go for it. Right now medievalists are on the world’s front pages reminding readers about the stunning arts that made Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris possible. Life has a way of opening up opportunities that we might never expect.