The Conversation You Need to Have With Your Teen Before They Choose a Major

What do you want to do with the rest of your life? This daunting question is posed in various forms to teens year round.

Older, more experienced adults may scoff at the validity of this question as their life experiences have proven this question incongruous with the actual results. Yet, adults across the country inevitably ask any teen approaching their college years some permutation of the question.

However, this seemingly innocuous question, can be incredibly stressful for many undecided teenagers who feel like the weight of the “rest of their lives” lies squarely on the choice of their major.

As high school students graduate across the USA the majority plan to pursue higher education. In late August, many students will be faced with the task of choosing their schedule and their major. To guide these decisions students have generally been hearing two conflicting pieces of advice: “Follow the money” or “Follow your passion.”

Money Major

Some have told them, “Pick a major that can get you a job out of college.” The subtle message being: pick something that can make you a lot of money.

As a high schooler, I never knew any of my friends who dreamed of being an accountant. As a high school teacher, it was a common response by unsure students that showed the slightest strength in math. What changed?

  • The incredible inflation of college tuition

  • The enormous pressure parents, sometimes unwittingly, place on their child

  • The general acceptance of financial success equating to happiness

Students knew it was a major that had the promise of a sizeable paycheck, a comfortable life and the ability to make parents proud, so they naturally gravitated to the response without really understanding all of their options.

The Passion Pitfall

However, they have also been told to “follow your passion” and “do what you love.” This advice seems to be in stark contrast with the previously mentioned guidance, with the rare exception of pre-med majors or other students who won the career and passion synchronization lottery and just happened to love something that translates into a lucrative profession.

Frequently, students are told to find jobs that make them happy and will love doing so they, “never have to work a day in their life”. This well-meaning advice is equally disastrous for a teen.

Putting a paycheck on majors and basing a selection solely on earnings potential will limit a student from exploring something they are genuinely interested in. Yet, putting the burden of finding “passion” on an eighteen year old choosing a major is unrealistic and doomed for failure. What is a student to do?

How a Parent Can Help

Instead of honing in on a major or career, have your child think about what kind of life they want after graduation. Try to have them initiate the dialogue. If they reject the 9-5-office lifestyle, for example, be understanding and ask them why they feel they would not like it and what they envision would make them happy instead. There are many ways people work efficiently, and sometimes that rigidity is unappealing. It doesn’t mean they are lazy or rebellious, but it does mean that it will shape their choices for a major.

Many of my former students would tell me that they would never want to work in an office every day, and then dutifully marched off to college only to graduate and enter the 9-5 grind because that is what they thought they were “supposed” to do.

At some point, every human must come face to face with the fact that they don’t have to live the life everybody expects them to. The trick is to confront this truth sooner rather than later.

Avoid focusing on passion or paycheck and try to help your child choose a major on what they value in life. Money is an important tool for living as you undoubtedly know well, but it is still just a tool. And passion can be developed. Think about a sport or hobby you enjoyed as a kid. Why did you choose that one instead of the others?

For me, I ultimately chose basketball over baseball and soccer because I was better at it. Since I was better at the sport, I began to really enjoy it. At one point I was playing on three teams at the same time.

If I put the expectation of being “passionate” about basketball from the first time I played it, I would have never found my athletic “passion” because I would have never given myself time to develop the skills to become good enough and then begin to enjoy it.

Manage Expectations

Paychecks can be earned through many means and passion can be developed. Preach this mantra to your child and it will ease their burden of picking the “right” major and help them choose one conducive to the life they want to live.

Your lifestyle often tends to come with the choice of a major. If they can’t imagine working on the weekends, they shouldn’t choose a major in hospitality. If they would prefer to work remotely, computer science may be a good choice. If they envision a life without a desk, perhaps aviation or nursing is a good fit.

Still, as a parent you may understand that majors do not decide the rest of your life, but for a teenager it can certainly feel that way. Help them manage the expectations of choosing a major. Plenty of successful people have jobs completely unrelated to their college majors. Critical thinking, analytical and writing skills are the cornerstones of higher education, and whichever major they choose ideally provides them with at least two out of three.


Most importantly, have them explore the life of the professionals in the industry. This is where you can use your network, or have them dive into a potential field through Internet research. Reach out to people in careers they are interested in and have an email exchange or facilitate a meetup for coffee.

Understanding the life that awaits them after the acquiring of a skill set in college will help them determine if it’s a good fit before the 4+ years are over. This can only be accomplished by engaging with people who have done or are currently doing the work they would like to one day.

Try This:

  • Google the profession with “blogs” after it. “Veterinary Blogs” shows close to a million links, “Police Officer Blogs” turned up more than 2 million hits, while “Lawyer Blogs” had more than 30 million results and “Doctor Blogs” over 50 million. The point is that there are literally millions of people who are sharing their stories of what it’s really like to do their job. Odds are some of them would be willing to answer any questions your teenager would throw at them.

  • Find a relevant Meetup. The site can put your child in contact with interesting and inspired like-minded individuals. They can also gain access to unique mentorships and insights about professions, majors and burgeoning fields of study like robotics or artificial intelligence.

  • Practice the “Long Run” mindset: There are literally thousands of career possibilities out there. It can feel overwhelming for students to have to choose one. All the adults they know keep asking them about it. It seems like the most important decision they will ever make. This is where an ancient stoic practice comes in handy. To add perspective to this world-ending decision, have your child visualize what they will feel like about this decision tomorrow, then a week from now, then a year from now, then five years from now, then ten years from now. The point being that each step further removed from the decision makes you realize that even if you choose the “wrong” one, in ten years, you will be exactly where you are supposed to be. Our past mistakes never hold us back, but they can become painful, hard fought lessons. In the long run everything will work out, but it can be really tough to see that in the midst of the decision. That is where this visualization exercise can provide the needed perspective.

Life is not linear. We bump and bounce along until something fits or circumstances and responsibilities squeeze us into our lifestyle. For young adults, their lives are just beginning. Lets give them the best advice possible. 

What if your kid could get great grades without being overly stressed-out all the time? What if they could learn to stop cramming and learn for more than just tomorrow's test? What if, instead of just wishing they would stop procrastinating, you could actually teach them how? Get access to these solutions in our free email mini-course filled with actionable, easy-to-implement tips to help your stressed out teen learn more effectively so they have time to do the things they truly love. Sign up for FREE at