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A Career Planning Course for Parents

Your son or daughter just left for (or returned to) college but doesn't seem to have a clue as to what he or she wants to major in, let alone choose as a career. Don't worry, this is not unusual, although you might wish your child had a little more sense of direction.

Choosing a career is a process students need to go through—and they go through the stages of this process at different rates of speed. The steps include: 

  1. Assessing skills, interests, and abilities (an important first step to choosing an appropriate career)
  2. Exploring majors and career options
  3. Experimenting with possible career options
  4. Organizing and conducting a job or graduate school search

You can assist and support your child in each of these stages. But what can—or should—you do? 


Here's your own career planning timetable. 

Careers 101—for parents of first-year students

During their first year or so of college, students will be involved (formally or informally) in assessing their skills, interests, and abilities. They will do this through finding success (or failure) in courses they take, involvement in campus activities, discussions with their friends and faculty, and by being exposed to and trying out different ideas and experiences. 

Most students enter college with a very limited knowledge of the vast array of courses and majors available to them. When they begin to delve into studies that are new to them, even those who entered with a plan may be drawn to different options. This is an exciting time for students.

What you can do to help

Careers 201—For parents of second-year students

Generally, during the second year of college, a student begins to explore majors and career options more seriously. Many colleges and universities require that new students take a broad range of subjects to promote this exploration. 

What you can do to help

Careers 301—For parents of "mid-career" students

During the sophomore year and throughout the junior year, it is important for students to experiment with possible career options. They can do this in a variety of ways: internships, cooperative education programs, summer jobs, campus jobs, and responsible volunteer experiences both on campus and in the local community. This is a critical time for your support and understanding.

What you can do to help

Careers 401—For parents of graduating seniors

The senior year is when organizing and conducting a job search or graduate school search begins in earnest. It is also a time when students are heavily involved in more advanced courses and often have more responsible roles in campus and/or volunteer activities. Balancing these important pursuits and setting priorities is a constant challenge for seniors. 

You are probably anxious for this young adult to make a decision—and yet, he or she may be moving toward closure more slowly than you would wish. 

What you can do to help

Final Thoughts

The college years are a time of exploration, experimentation, and learning on many levels for students and their parents! Some student challenges may seem more positive than others, but all contribute to the educational outcomes of the college or university experience. 

Throughout these years, students are developing a "record of achievement" that will be evaluated by employers and graduate schools as they move beyond college. There are several pieces of this record: 


Best of luck to you in navigating the challenging waters of parenting a college or university student. 


By Sally Kearsley. Courtesy of the  National Association of Colleges and Employers.