How to Tell Your Parent/Guardian That You Want a Major They Don’t Agree With
“What should I major in?” It’s one of the biggest decisions you’ll face when attending college. It’s a question that hovers in the back of your mind during freshman year and a choice you have to make by your junior year. The pressure you put on yourself can be made worse by expectant gazes from the adults in your life. Some adults, usually your parents or guardians, want you to pick a major that they recognize (e.g. engineering, nursing, or pre-med) or one that guarantees job security, financial stability, or prestige. The people who take care of you work hard so that you can build a more secure future, but what do you do when their idea of a secure future clashes with who you are as a person?
When the major you’re drawn to seems like a careless choice to your parents or guardians, you’ll need to prepare to sell them on the merits of your choice. In order to alleviate some of that stress, follow these seven tips to get the conversation started and build some momentum in your favor.
1. Educate yourself.
Research your preferred major. Find out the requirements for your major at your school. Research what fields people with that major tend to go into, what job prospects are out in the world right now, what possible income you’ll earn, market demand, etc. The more certain the future looks, the better. In looking for more information, you may even find out facts that you didn’t know (e.g., the job prospects actually aren’t great for this major, or you need to get a grad degree before you start making a decent salary). Before you can convince anyone of supporting the major you truly want to major in, you need to know what it truly entails. This way you’ll be prepared to defend your major choice to the best of your ability.
2. Get a second opinion.
Find at least 3-5 professionals practicing in the field you want to work in. Use LinkedIn, search through Google for career sites, or look through the “Team” pages of specific companies you want to work for in order to find them. Then study their career paths on their LinkedIn profiles. Don’t be surprised if they did not share your major during their undergraduate studies. Many careers outside of the sciences are flexible and can be dictated by past experience and jobs rather than personal interest or passion. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could even, reach out to them to talk about their career and see what path they took to get there.
Talking with a professor is also helpful. Professors often have connections in the field that will give you a clearer picture of what your job/career prospects might look like in the current job market (See “Your Guide to Office Hours”). They may also be able to connect you with recent alumni. By bringing outside people into the discussion, you strengthen your case and learn helpful insider information that will help you jumpstart your career. After all, when it’s just you, sometimes your parent or guardian cannot help but feel it’s something you decided on a whim.
3. Tell them ASAP.
After preparing as much as possible by completing Steps 1-2, have a conversation with them ASAP. Just rip off the Band-Aid. The longer you hold out, the harder it will be to convince anyone that you really want this major. Starting early also ensures you have time to prepare for your major appropriately. Bring up all the research you did; show them that you are prepared and you have put serious thought into this major. If at all possible, have them talk with a professor or advisor who supports your plans. Your preparation will show your parent/guardian the consideration you put into the major and, most importantly, your level of commitment.
4. Be honest.
This one may be especially hard. Many times your parents/guardians want you to be happy but think the way to happiness is to follow their desires. Sometimes that belief can make you want to give up and give in to your parent’s/guardian’s desires; it’s easier not to put up a fight. It’s important to remember that your parents/guardians love you and they want what’s best for you, even if they don’t always understand what that is. For this reason, you should be honest with what really brings you joy, rather than hide your interests to meet their expectations. Part of growing up is having difficult conversations, this being one of them. Your parent/guardian may not immediately understand, and it may even take them 10 years before they really get it, but in the long-run you’ll be grateful for it. At the very least, once they see that following a career that you have real interest in does not end in you being broke, they’ll have a better understanding of your choices.
5. Listen to their concerns.
If your parents or guardians still have concerns, don’t dismiss them. Pay attention to what they have to say. Their concerns may be points you should take into consideration before you continue down your chosen path. Even if you think they have no idea what they’re talking about, take the time to double-check or do additional research. Find solutions by looking for more information. Go online, talk to your professors or advisors, go to the Career Center at your college, or find other students who are going down a similar path. With these resources, you will be able to find more concrete answers for your parents/guardians that will likely be helpful to you as well.
6. Compromise, if you must.
If they still do not like your major of choice, and it’s really important to you that they do, it is possible for you to compromise. Double majors are a possibility, depending on the workload of each major. This can get tricky, though, because of the timing around when you decide to double major. For example, deciding you want to major in Biology in addition to English by late sophomore year might not be possible on a four-year timeline if you haven’t taken any science classes your freshman year. Another option is to minor in a particular field, or at least take a lot of classes in it. If you do end up compromising, just make sure you don’t let go of what you feel is most important to you.
7. A major is not the end of the road.
At the end of the day, the major you choose is not the be-all and end-all we make it out to be. Sometimes the job you get has nothing to do with your major, or the connection is very vague, or your work experience ends up being more relevant than what you studied. This is especially true for students with liberal arts degrees. If you major in English or History, to name a few examples, you could get a job in anything ranging from teaching to public relations to law. Of course, for jobs that require specific degrees in the sciences (engineers, doctors, etc.) you won’t be able to jump into the job with a liberal arts degree, but there are ways/programs out there if you do decide later on that being an engineer is your true calling. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people in the Baby Boomer generation changed their jobs an average of 12 times in their lifetimes. Given today’s social and economic trends, Millennials and Generation Z will probably change jobs even more often. So, don’t worry too much. Your major may not always equate to the ideal job. Take classes you like, find interesting and will think back on in the future, and find college internships and jobs that align with what you want to do in the future. The latter is crucial to building the career you want if you have a liberal arts degree, and equally important for science majors to accumulate work experience.
Choosing a major can feel like you are locking down your future. That kind of decisiveness is frightening. Instead of blindly following your parents’ or guardians’ preferences, think about what you want. Research your chosen path, arm yourself with knowledge, and get ready to break it to your loved ones. It won’t be easy, but studying a subject and preparing for a career that suits you is worth it.
About the author…
Anitta Machanickal is the Managing Editor of propellercollective.org and a recent graduate of Davidson College, where she earned a BA in English. She’s a first gen and limited-income graduate who focused most of her college years helping young, limited-income students and children of immigrants, and continues this through Propeller Collective.