The Gerber Life Parenting Blog

Should Earning Potential Determine Your Child’s Major?

May 13, 2014

teenage girl holding paperFor some students, choosing a college major is one of the most difficult decisions to make; akin to the timeless question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a parent, you want your child to choose an area of study that he or she will be passionate about and that will lead to great prospects for employment.

Here are six tips to help guide your child through the process of choosing a major:

1. Keep an open mind. If, while still in high school, your child already knows what area of study he or she wishes to pursue in college, help your child target those colleges that best match his or her long-term goals. Some colleges, for example, may be well-known for their graphic design programs, while others may specialize in engineering. However, encourage them to keep an open mind, as they may find their passions lead them in a different direction once they enter college.

2. Use the first year of college to further explore options. Your child’s freshman year will likely be filled with required general education courses that aren’t specific to one area of study. Be careful not to pressure your child into making a concrete decision before even stepping foot on campus. Instead, encourage your child to enter college with a mental image of what he or she will be working toward.

3. Dream big but set goals to get there. Not every teenager knows what he or she wants to be as a grown-up. Your child may have passions and interests that can be a guide for choosing one major over another. Although it may take time for those passions and inspirations to gel into a clear vocational path – that’s OK. Help your child to focus on what he or she is passionate about. This can help create a vision for where your child wants to be after college. Then work backward with your child to create goals for how to get there.

4. Be transparent with your child about college costs. With the cost of tuition and fees for in-state students averaging $8,893 in 2013 – 2014 (a 2.9% increase from last year), college is a big expense. Regardless of whether or not you’ll be covering the cost of your child’s college education, you’ll want to have an honest conversation with them about the expenses and how they will be covered. This is especially important for students choosing a college major because, if your child chooses a major and then decides to switch it down the road, this could result in unexpected expenses – from additional courses to books. While you want to support their dreams, you also want them to understand any financial limitations early on.

5. Keep earning potential in mind but don’t let it drive the decision. PayScale recently released its 2013-2014 PayScale College Salary Report, which shows the correlation between a child’s college major and potential post-graduation earnings.

The top 10 majors on PayScale’s list by salary potential:

  • Petroleum engineering
  • Actuarial mathematics
  • Nuclear engineering
  • Chemical engineering
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Electrical engineering
  • Computer engineering
  • Computer science
  • Physics
  • Mechanical engineering

If your child isn’t dreaming of engineering or mathematics, don’t fret. The PayScale report carries a broader range of majors in its full list, including zoology, film production and journalism. Remember however; that even if your son or daughter opts for a major that isn’t on PayScale’s list, or any list, what’s most important is that your child chooses a major at the top of their own list.

6. Consider an internship. Sometimes, a gap exists between college expectations and career realities. According to, 37% of recent grads reported that they had to compromise on job requirements. To close that gap and help your child choose a major that meets his or her career expectations, encourage doing an internship. Hands-on experience outside the classroom can help a child paint a clearer picture of how his or her choice in a college major could transition into a tangible career.

Have you and your son or daughter started talking about selecting a college major? If so, share it with us – and how they decided on it – in the “Comments” below.

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Categories: College Planning
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