Should Your Parents Have a Say in Your College Major?

When my husband chose to pursue his first bachelor’s degree in theatre arts, his parents were less than thrilled. They wanted him to be happy, of course, but they also wanted him to earn a degree that translated well into real life – and a real career.

But my husband forged ahead with his plans, ultimately earning a degree in theatre and moving to Chicago to give acting a real shot. Unfortunately, just a few years later, he realized that his parents were right to worry. Just as they had warned him, the pay for new actors was incredibly low – so low that he had to work a day job to pay the bills while auditioning and doing shows on weekends and evenings. Further, his “career” had afforded him no benefits, no chance for upward mobility, and no stability at all. And in the end, he wanted more.

So back to school he went, but this time for something more practical. Instead of something aspirational, he chose to learn a trade and pursue a bachelor’s degree in mortuary science. And $23,000 later, he had a degree that paid off in spades.

I share my husband’s story often, but not to embarrass him; I share it because I believe it serves as a cautionary tale for anyone on the fence about pursuing their “dream college degree.” Sure, it works out plenty of times, but what happens when it doesn’t? Like my husband, you’re stuck either toughing it out or heading back to school to pursue something else – at your expense. And, as we all know, college isn’t cheap.

Should Your Parents Have a Say in What You Major In?

To me, this begs a question: Should parents have a say in their child’s college major?

Here’s what I think: It depends on who’s paying.

When parents are footing the bill for their children’s education – or at least part of it – I believe they should have some say in that investment.

Survey responses from Discover Financial’s 2015 Student Loans Survey seem to echo that sentiment. According to the poll, a growing number of parents (44%) said they were more likely to offer funds for college if their child majored in a high-demand field or profession. That’s up from 33% in 2014.

And that makes sense. With the costs of college – and corresponding student loan debt levels – surging year after year, it’s wise for caring parents to at least try to steer their children toward a degree program that can prepare them for a rewarding career – and one with excellent earning potential.

Actually, the Discover survey shows that the latter has become more important than anything else. According to the survey, which polled 1,000 adults with college-bound children ages 16 to 18, 47% said that earning potential was the most important criteria for their children’s college major. Meanwhile, a full 48% of parents surveyed said they were limiting their children’s college choices based on affordability in 2015.

Simply put, parents are looking at it from both ends of the spectrum. In other words, they are stepping in to analyze the one thing college-bound kids can’t always understand – the true costs of a college degree.

And when parents offer this advice, we should really listen. After all, following good advice could mean the difference between having a profitable career – or struggling and starting over later in life.

Could Your Parents Be Right?

As I wrote this piece, I yelled into the other room to ask my husband if he regrets spending his free college ride on a degree in theatre arts. “Nope,” he said, adding that his education provided him with plenty of life experience – and led him to where he is at this very moment. With me.

In that sense, it’s hard to argue that he did the wrong thing. We all know how life sometimes forces twists and turns as you work your way up. Progress isn’t always a straight line, and there will always be setbacks. As my husband sees it, his first degree was a learning experience, albeit an expensive one.

Still, most of us would be better off if we listened to our parents more often. There are things you cannot know until you’ve lived enough to experience it yourself. And sometimes, when you’re 17 or 18 and think the world is your oyster, the dose of reality your parents offer is the best medicine you can find.

So, let’s reframe the question. Instead of asking whether parents should have a say in your college major, let’s ask if you’ll be willing to listen. Because, here’s the truth: Sometimes the best advice is the advice you don’t want to hear.

Do you think parents should have a say in their children’s college major? Why or why not? Does it depend on who is footing the bill?

Holly Johnson
Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.

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