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Advice for academically strong, but directionless daughter

EmmycatEmmycat 115 replies16 threads Junior Member
Hi all – I’m not sure if this is a productive question to ask on this forum, but my rising college Junior daughter is so lost and confused that I’m desperate for any advice. I won’t go into too much detail here, but the upshot is that she recently transferred from her selective private college to our state flagship U for many reasons. One of the main reasons, though, is that she was feeling confused about her major and knew that she was under pressure to finish her degree in four years at her private college because she had a 4 year scholarship and we couldn’t afford an extra semester at full price.

So that’s the history and, although we were sad to see her not continue at her original college, we supported her decision to transfer. But now, she is completely overwhelmed with all of the major options at the large State U and just can’t figure out what she wants to study. We’ve told her to not worry too much and to just take some time to explore – after all, some breathing room on finishing in 4 years was one of the reasons for the transfer. But, she is driving herself – and us – crazy, because she can’t stand not having a plan.

Part of the difficulty is that’s she a really bright, ambitious kid, who has a 4.0 to date in college and has taken some hard courses (organic chem for one) that let us know she can likely do well in most majors. But, despite her academic success and her ambition, she’s also got a strong urge to go into something more creative or service-focused. She’s spent a lot of time on idealist.com lately! She has decided that despite her strong skills in science – and a lot of courses taken during her first two years – she doesn’t want to work in a lab or doing research. She still sometimes considers medical school, but is leaning away from that for some reason right now.

She loves self-help books and wellness, is interested in nutrition and food science, and is also interested in psychology, possibly journalism, mental health, education administration, non-profit administration, global health and – from out of left-field – landscape architecture/urban planning. Basically, she’s very interested in wellness, mental health in particular, and likes the idea of helping to design urban spaces to promote health/wellness. She’s also interested in designing educational programs to promote health/wellness. Unfortunately for her, her father and I both have very straight-forward professional careers that we went straight into out of professional school and we’re not being very helpful in advising her on how to design a career that’s a bit out of the ordinary. We're also biased (especially my husband) toward the "safe" majors where we feel like she's more likely to find good, well-compensated, employment.

I’m hoping maybe this post will strike a chord with someone on here who might have taken a more circuitous route to his/her career, or whose kid might have had similar struggles. If so, any advice would be much appreciated! She has talked to her advisor with her transfer college, has connected with multiple potential mentors at both her previous and transfer college, and has read multiple books/websites on careers. Right now, she’s debating taking a gap year to buy herself more time because she’s scared of wasting more money on classes that won’t end up being her major. But then that brings up the question of what she’d do during a gap year and the circling begins all over again! She feels like she’s wasting her great GPA and shooting herself in the foot with her indecisiveness.

Thanks in advance for any advice!
40 replies
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Replies to: Advice for academically strong, but directionless daughter

  • brantlybrantly 4265 replies77 threads Senior Member
    edited June 29
    Don't force it. She—and YOU—have to be comfortable with uncertainty. Forcing a career decision can lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. Since she does not have a career goal at the moment, she should pick a major based solely on what she likes to study. You do know that a major does not funnel into an exact-matching career. Most psychology majors do not become psychologists. Hardly any history majors become historians. She should study what she wants to study to learn how to think critically and write well. She also sounds like the type of person who would benefit from some post-grad exploration, maybe through a Fulbright or a job teaching English abroad. Living abroad helps put oneself clearly into focus.
    "Its a mistake to look too far ahead, the chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time." —Winston Churchill

    And what are you implying with this?
    But, despite her academic success and her ambition, she’s also got a strong urge to go into something more creative or service-focused. She’s spent a lot of time on idealist.com lately!
    Only academic failures and unambitious people go into creative or service-focused careers? Maybe that's why she's confused. She's getting subtle messages from you.
    edited June 29
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  • helpingmom40helpingmom40 243 replies7 threads Junior Member
    First of all, kudos to her and you for realizing she wasn’t heading down the right path for her before being pushed in a direction she wouldn’t be happy in. I can completely understand her position! I am approaching 50 and still unsure of what I want to do when I grow up. On a more serious note, sometimes it takes some time to find the right path. I started out majoring in something that was a “one skill” type of job and left after a year and a half, got an AS degree in another “one skill” subject and couldn’t get a job. Long story short, I went back to school in my midtwenties and got a “worthless” degree in one of those humanities disciplines everyone tells you to avoid and never looked back. I was able to explore different types of jobs and careers that I never would have found if I had spent the last decades doing something I didn’t like. I have had some really amazing opportunities working for some truly great companies and they are opportunities I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

    Several of the fields you mentioned will require grad school, and that is great! It gives her the flexibility to major in something she plain old likes and gather some more ideas. There is nothing wrong with a major like psychology that she finds intriguing and using that to explore grad school programs in nutrition or social work, or certificate programs in wellness or being a life coach. Personally, I think a BS or BA in any of the humanities or liberal arts is a spring board to a wide open world.
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  • EmmycatEmmycat 115 replies16 threads Junior Member
    Oh gosh - that's not what I meant to imply at all! Of course focused, successful people go into creative and service-oriented careers. I guess I was trying to say that she is now starting to be more introspective about what matters to her in a career in a deeper way.
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  • CollegeMamb0CollegeMamb0 81 replies1 threads Junior Member
    I am an embodied trauma therapist. I studied humanities at college and worked in consulting. I focused mainly on the people aspect of large change programs. After several years, and kids, I re-trained, which was not 'one and done'. I did have to go back to school, but other trainings have been through other institutions and organisations, such as yoga, mindfulness and somatic experiencing.

    If your daughter is really interested in mental health and wellness, then psychology & neuroscience would be a good place to start, perhaps with a double major in communications if mental health comms are her passion? Further training could be a PhD, or a Masters as Licensed Therapist.

    She needs to get her hands dirty with people who need help. Can she volunteer for a mental health helpline: she will get training and exposure to those difficult conversations? Perhaps her school has a peer support program.

    I would also encourage some kind of movement or embodied practice, such as yoga or martial arts. Also a meditation or mindfulness practice. She needs to know herself well to work in mental health, as a lot of self regulation is needed. Perhaps her school also has a class on Buddhism and mindfulness in the Religious Studies department?

    If she is into comms, she could start a blog, vlog or separate Instagram account and just start writing and sharing about these topics. This could lead into volunteer work running the social media for local non profits that focus on mental health perhaps?

    I agree with both posters above that a job (elder care facility would be hard but great exposure for difficult situations) and programs such as Fulbright would be excellent options. If she wants to work with child/teenage mental health, then Teach for America for a few years is useful to know about life at the coal face.
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  • CheddarcheeseMNCheddarcheeseMN 3686 replies14 threads Senior Member
    Public policy or environmental policy are undergraduate majors at some schools and could incorporate interests in science, wellness, and current affairs.
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  • eb23282eb23282 835 replies24 threads Member
    Join the Peace Corps.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 7285 replies34 threads Senior Member
    Public policy or environmental policy are undergraduate majors at some schools and could incorporate interests in science, wellness, and current affairs.

    This ^^^

    Love her idea of urban planning for wellness https://smartgrowth.org/how-urban-planners-can-promote-health-and-wellness/

    Also have her take a few of her ideas and "combine" them to get ideas. Don't be surprised at what you will find. Then go on Indeed or the like and see what she needs to accomplish it. Love that she's not linear. Some of the most successful people "create" their own niche.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 7285 replies34 threads Senior Member
  • whidbeyite2002whidbeyite2002 267 replies1 threads Junior Member
    @Emmycat, twenty years ago my professor of career counseling brought up the “too many aptitudes” conundrum and pointed me to the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation. It might be that your daughter struggles with these too numerous abilities and hence too many options.

    I agree with others here that your daughter might be best off determining ways to combine her interests and skills.

    Also, I agree about your daughter trying to pursue work (paid or unpaid). We all learn so much about ourselves through working—including what we don’t like.

    I wish I could remember the name of a career/interests assessment recently mentioned by another CC member. I’m not sure if it would help or hurt.

    Wishing your daughter and your family the best!
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  • socaldad2002socaldad2002 2365 replies34 threads Senior Member
    I would encourage her to take a gap year, especially in this current college environment. She can spend the next 12 months figuring it all out before she goes back to a new college as a Junior. She sounds like a smart kid with a 4,0 GPA (so far) and should be able to get some kind of decent employment and/or volunteer hours doing something that she enjoys. I do wonder if something "happened" to her or she had a bad experience to want her to leave a college she attended for two years. Most rising Juniors can't wait to get back to their college life, their new friends, etc.

    With that said, many 19 year olds have no idea what they want to do for their career and many will pivot to jobs and careers they never thought of doing. Maybe a gap year will clear her head and she can explore her options. The main thing is to continue to be supportive of her decisions and beliefs.
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  • Midwest67Midwest67 4111 replies15 threads Senior Member
    Does your D have any favorite professors or podcasters or science journalists?

    She might be thinking school to career to guaranteed great life is a straight line.

    I bet if she examined the lives of adults she admires, she might be very surprised how twisty turny their lives have been.

    Having said that, one of my kids is a very good student and wound tight.

    She was thinking a neuroscience or biology major with some unknown career in the health field.

    Her freshman year schedule began to depress her over the summer before school even started. Too many hard, rigorous classes, and for what?

    She was remarkably less wound up about school when she changed gears & settled on a Communications Disorders UG major. She re-arranged her first semester classes and took off.

    She had to take her science courses, but it was all directly tied to her major, practical, and less grueling. She did very well in her program without feeling ground down all the time.

    She is in grad school now for Speech Language Pathology.

    IMO, it helped her to be on more of a vocational path when in UG school, similar to her friends in engineering.

    She does not do well with too much uncertainty.

    Therapy can help a lot with this!

    Good luck!
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  • thumper1thumper1 78276 replies3527 threads Senior Member
    Join the Peace Corps.

    Unfortunately, the Peace Corps is on hold right now. But if it gets up and running, this is a great option for your student.

    Our daughter completed a degree in engineering with a double major in biology. She decided Engineering wasn’t her thing...and really had no idea what she wanted to do next. She applied to and was accepted into the Peace Corps as an education volunteer who taught mostly science classes. The 27 months in the PC was great, and during that time she also decided what she wanted to do next.

    Getting a job isn’t a bd idea either. Maybe your daughter needs some space between college and a career decision.

    She needs to pick a major, something she likes...and graduate. Many folks get jobs that have nothing to do with their majors.

    She might also want to contact the career center folks. Often they can listen to student interests and help point them in a good direction.
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  • brantlybrantly 4265 replies77 threads Senior Member
    A lot of journalists are like your daughter. Journalists are able to take deep dives into a lot of different subjects, becoming mini-experts in each area they cover. It also suits people who are skeptical and enjoy getting to the bottom of things. She can major in anything.
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