Privilege Blog

Parental Worries About Children Making A Living, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:59am

I believe I may have reached a place in my parenting where I do not know what to do.

Which is not to say that I’m in a state of anxiety, or a tizzy, or a panic. Only that my children are growing up, and reaching places in their lives where their experience will diverge from mine. Without direct knowledge, I have to research, I have to ask questions, I have to gather information.

I’m thinking maybe you all can help. I know many of you are in your early, or not so early-twenties. Thank you in advance.

My son is a sophomore in college. At Princeton, as I have said, as was my daughter. I am very proud of both of them. But I digress. My son is choosing a major, and a course of study for his next two years. He will graduate, if all proceeds without interruption, in 2012. At which point, it would be good if he was earning some kind of living. Since my family fortune has dwindled and all that.

Here’s my issue. I inherited enough money at the age of 21 that I could major in Comparative Literature, graduate, take what were essentially internships, with Cameron Mackintosh Productions in London and Circle Repertory Theater in New York, and travel through India for 3 months. Then, and only then, I decided to go for an MBA and enter the world of salaried, health-insuranced, tax-paying employees. Which was perhaps not the best decision, but that’s another story.

As a result, I don’t know what kids do who graduate college without a clear path to revenue. What if, for example, someone majors in the creative disciplines, graduates, take a job teaching English overseas, then returns to the US? What are the opportunities, what are the requirements, what are the characteristics of early life out of college when still discovering a career path? What do kids do these days if they don’t have a clear route to an entry-level salaried job?

I am not saying I mind if waiting tables is the fallback. Only that I do not know if waiting tables is even an option these days. And where does one live? With whom?

I worry less about the eventual career part. It’s the wandering around preliminary stuff that I can’t envision with much clarity.

Well. That’s it. I thank you in advance. If you tell me all is well I imagine my son will thank you too. That is, if he can understand that I ask this question out of a desire to do a better job at mothering, and hence he can forgive me for having brought it all up to begin with.

Have a wonderful weekend.

88 Responses

  1. Does the uni offer career counselling? Perhaps they can point him in the right direction? Is he in a specific program?

    I honestly dont know what someone does when they graduate with a degree in general stuff…I left high school, worked for a few years, went to a technical college and ran into everyone I went to high school with – they had all graduated uni, found themselves with no real skills and ended up in college to learn a career.

  2. He'll be fine, I promise. I don't think I know a single person who had a direct trajectory from college to a career-like job. And we all survived, even if we had a few lean years.

  3. I am posting as anonymous because this is the first time I've posted a comment. I believe if young adults have a passion they are very blessed. I would encourage my college age child (mine is still in high school without a passion other than just being a teenager) to, as the saying goes, follow their dreams. If your child doesn't necessarily have a passion or direction then a parent just has to be a little more pragmatic in their advice. Get a job that pays the rent and while you are learning to be an adult, opportunities will present themselves. I believe "how" they conduct their young adult lives is as important as "what" they choose to do. On a wing and a prayer…

  4. Thank you guys. Suburban, he knows what he wants to do, I just wasn't sure how to guide him in how to make it work, since it's not an easily salaried path. His plans are firming up. It helped me just to post. Accordions, thank you. I was hoping you and others like you would chime in too. Anonymous, welcome. Good point. How they conduct their lives. Thank you.

  5. Lisa

    Let it go. We all have to do this when our kids fly the nest, and it is not much fun and sometimes hurts. A lot. But not letting it go is guaranteed to make it worse. You know that, but I want you to hear it from somebody outside your head.

    I told both of our daughters, and my older nephew, to study what they love. (Can you imagine studying what you do not love and being trapped for the rest of your life?) Nobody knows what is going to happen — not us, not them. When we were their age, we were told certain paths were more lucrative than others, and that some were more secure than others. That is not true any more.

    The reason that you don't know what is happening is that nobody knows what is happening. We gave our kids what we had to give, and we couldn't do any more. You gave your children what you had, and they will be fine.

    To quote my favorite Science Fiction author, the only thing guaranteed is change. For that you need flexibility. I am betting on you and on your kids.

    Talk with Meg; you have spoken of her before. She just emerged from those years you are worried about.

    And I apologize, but am not sorry, for not meeting your early twenties age limit.

  6. Megsdad. What a great comment. And I know Meg and admire her enormously. If she came through those kind of years, well then, I really am worrying about nothing. Congrats on your daughter, BTW. She's a keeper:). But you knew that already.

  7. I graduated from a large public university with a degree in english linguistics, undeclared minors in psychology and German film and grades poor enough to preclude me from graduate studies.

    My parents were aghast, naturally concerned what prospects I might have for employment. I took a job as a personal assistant that paid enough to cover my rent. While I didn't get to live in the manner to which I had grown accustomed, the freedom of true adulthood more than made up for whatever I was unable to afford.

    One job naturally led to another and almost fifteen years on I do quite well for myself, despite my Bohemian course of study. I have no doubt that your children will fare similarly well, enriched with wild tales from their early adulthood and the pride that comes with hard work.

  8. Hello! First, let me say that I enjoy reading your blog, and I look forward to each new post.

    I'm 25. I went to a top-tier university, majored in Art History and English & American Literature, and graduated in 2006 with no direction. While my friends were honing their interests and applying to grad and PhD programs, I didn't feel the same sense of urgency. I just assumed I would eventually "figure it all out." Bad idea. While I was waiting for my passion to find ME, life happened, and I'm STILL trying to figure it out, 4 years later.

    Immediately after graduation, I went back home for my last summer vacation, which felt like any other before it. I waited tables through August, saving all my money in order to move back east and make something of myself. I got as far as Boston and settled for the first salaried job I was handed, thinking I'd get my feet weet, stay for a year, max, then find something I really wanted to do. I loathed that job, but despite that fact (or maybe because of it), I stayed for over 3 years, (i) to prove I could, and (ii) because I felt trapped. I only recently summoned enough courage to quit, right after snatching up another offer for a lower paying, hourly position in a different field. I'm battered and bruised and bitter from my first job, and I'm honestly still dealing with a lot of the consequences of allowing myself to endure such a negative, abusive environment for so long.

    The only advice I feel I can give on this subject is that if your son finds that he hates his first job, let him know it doesn't "build character" to tough it out. It's ok, especially now, to jump around a bit to get a taste of what you DO like. If he can find that, nothing he did prior to that point will matter.

  9. Attaining the normal middle-class lifestyle (modest house, car, and ability to support a family) has become very difficult. Recent college graduates have tremendous difficulty finding jobs. Things are much more competitive than they used to be.

    I went from majoring in accounting to an accounting job, then from law school to a law firm, and have been happy with that path. People around my age (26) with liberal arts degrees typically embrace alternative lifestyles. A philosophy major I know spends huge chunks of the year working in antarctica and works for a university research group when she comes home. She made good academic connections while in undergrad. An english major I know took a job as a medical assistant in a small doctor's office. A family member who recently turned 30 is trying to transition now from his life as a musician (playing in bars/restaurants, teaching guitar on the side, and living with several roommates) into a career as a real estate agent.

    Most people I know who didn't major in something with a clear career path plan to move into more traditional careers via graduate school in one form or another, which is consistent with how competitive the job market is today. Some similarly situated individuals I know have become very frustrated with their inability to find a job that they would consider doing as a career, and are running through idea after idea trying to find their way into a white collar job without having taken the traditional path.

    My honest recommendation for people who eventually want a traditional lifestyle is to major in something practical and do internships/part-time jobs that further career goals — and I think this is especially important for men, who are still largely expected or at least desired to be the primary breadwinner.

  10. My parents did basically NOTHING for me at all ever, educationally speaking. No help, no guidance, neither of them went to college. I graduated with student loan debt that far exceeded any annual salary I would have had post graduation from college. If your son is smart enough to graduate from Princeton, he can figure it out.

  11. Hi, I started writing a comment and then realizing I had more to say about this (as someone who just went through the post-college morass) than would comfortably or reasonably fit in a comment. So I emailed you; it's headed 'Longer comment – Parental Worries.'

    thanks again for the great blog — I enjoy all of it, and I even occasionally share parts of it with my mother!

  12. Thanks for your kind comment on my blog today. Now, my two cent's worth regarding your issue. Our daughter is a college sophomore and our son, is in his second year of law school. Lorelai is in education, which used to be a pretty good bet as far as employment is concerned. These days…not so much. We're going to encourage her to go straight on through with her Masters and hopefully by then the budget brouhaha in education will have calmed a bit. Legare better make a good impression this summer in his summer associate position and get a full time offer because he is NOT moving home unless it's for a home base during a traveling clerkship. That wasn't really even two cent's worth, was it? I don't think there's an answer…

  13. I have a daughter who's a librarian (specializing in electronic resources–librarians aren't just about books anymore) who did two years of Americorps before grad school. My son went right from undergrad to law school and wishes he hadn't been that eager. Americorps was great for my daughter in terms of experience and gave her some tuition aid towards grad school. FYI, daughter majored in English, son in history and biology. Good luck.

  14. Hi Lisa– I don't think I've posted before, but I have been reading for a long time and very much enjoy what you have to say.

    I graduated from a top tier liberal arts college four years ago. I majored in history, minored in Latin, and had little direction. My first year out, I taught Latin at a private prep school. Finding that not to my liking, I found a job as assistant manager at a local coffee house. I've been there for three years, and although it has seemed more like a "job" than a career, I have learned a lot from it, especially about managing people. However, I am certainly in the "lean times" one of the above posters mentioned.

    I started online business and accounting classes in January, and am happy I finally have a direction and an understanding of where I am going and how to get there. It took me a while to find a path, and in some ways I feel like I've lost so much time– probably because I'm young and impatient. But! Long story short, I just want to tell you that if your son is anything like I am, he'll figure it out, and it will be okay.

  15. My daughter is graduating from undergrad in June. (In only 3 years! She's a brainiac!) She's gotten into some very prestigious grad schools. She wants to travel around Thailand instead. She's already traveled Europe extensively. I'm trying to get her to do the grad school now vs. deferring for a year. (A lot of political unrest in thailand right now.) Anyway – we are hoping the economy has improved by the time she gets out of grad school so that she *might* be able to get a job. My second oldest is only a freshman in college, but he wants (as of today) to follow up college w/law school. My youngest is just at the beginning of high school so no worries there yet. I'm just hoping they don't all end up moving back home with us! : )

  16. Thank you for asking these questions. Our oldest flutters out of the nest with a definite plan and the brains and gumption to do it–mechanical engineering followed by MBA. He's interested in sustainability, so I'm thinking that soon he'll be buying his own groceries. Our younger son is much more liberal arts oriented, wants to travel, and so on. My personal experience wants to tell him to settle on a professional path in which he is capable (law, accounting, whatever) and to pursue the rest in his post-40/second career. But I don't tell him that because life is short, and there's a good chance that my lesson isn't his lesson. Argh.

  17. Amanda – as long as there are jobs that allow someone to pay the rent, I'm on board for Bohemian, especially with a happy outcome.

    ekingitout – I took a look at your blog. The focus on finances is admirable. I think following one's heart, with a r'emunerative but not miserable backup, is what Im thinking about.

    Knight – thank you for your thoughts. Some people have practical natures, some are creative, best for everyone to find as much of both aspects as possible, I think.

    SlynnRo – You crack me up, as always. I know I hover. I just try to do it well rather than badly…

    Belle, – We will just send out good wishes for all these kids, right?

    Maggie – I am a big fan of these programs like Americorps. I will not be at all surprised if something similar plays a role.

    Sarah – I think it's really normal to be just finding a real direction at 25 or 26. It's a question of how to spend those direction-finding years. Believe me, you have not lost any significant time.

    Twenty Four – Congrats on the brainiac daughter. I think moving home at some point isn't unusual. As long as they have something productive and directional to do in that period.

  18. I don't think there's any college major that guarantees an income.

    I teach college at a film school. Many of my students will make their way to LA or New York and have long careers in the business, but many will not. But what they learned in college will help them in whatever career they end up in, namely:

    -Creative problem-solving
    -Standing by their own ideas
    -Managing people and resources toward a deadline
    -Finishing what they start
    -Media literacy
    -Giving and taking constructive criticism
    -Self-reliance and a no-excuses attitude
    -Taking risks, learning from mistakes

    I don't know if I could have done what they do when I was an undergrad at Georgetown. When they leave school, no one will look at their transcripts or even care what they major in. Their jobs will come from the portfolios of work they have, their experience in internships, and the connections they make with peers and employers.

    I don't know what field your son is interested in, but is there a way for him to come out of school with some kind of tangible projects? Research, clips, blogs, videos, photos – some kind of portfolio that shows what he can do?

    I'd also recommend Brazen Careerist ( as a place for Gen Y people to network, if he's interested in corporate life.

  19. Oh my…I am not much help here, as I am concerned about my adult children and their finances as well. I know that I should let this go. I am not good at letting go when it comes to my children, I am involved in their lives but have to pull back and not smother them!
    I would say though that you've done the hard work raising them and now the rest is up to them.
    Be supportive, positive, stay connected, listen when they speak, love and trust them to make their own descisions.

  20. I got the practical education, worked hard, had a great set of internships – and I had a hell of a time finding a job. Mostly because my industry goes through enormous waves of layoffs from time to time, and then a whole pool of well-educated professionals are on the same market. So – if I had it to do again, would I choose the same major, for the sake of what turns out to be false security? No. I think that people who are passionate do well in whatever field excites them. Almost everyone has a story about the lean years, and that's fine. It helps your general understanding of the world.

    As for living situation, I think everyone should strive for independence. Even if that means being cash-poor. If that's your son's goal, you can relax. He'll figure it out one way or another.

  21. I graduated with a double major in two liberal arts fields from a Big Ten university in 2006. I spent the next two years working in an administrative-type legal position, which prompted my decision to attend law school. I am currently in my second year of law school and I am so happy that I took that time “off” to figure out my career goals. Although I feel confident about my decision to become a lawyer, I am a bit worried because the economy has taken its toll on the legal profession and good jobs are much harder to obtain.

    After graduation, many of my friends moved to different cities (NYC, Chicago, LA, Boston, Minneapolis) and have been working their way up with the same companies since then. However, I have many other friends who moved home and lived with their parents for a year or two after graduation. Some friends taught English in foreign countries (i.e. China, South Korea, Israel) or took service-oriented positions with organizations like Teach for America or Americorp. Overall, I think the post-graduation path depends on who the person is, what type of career he or she wants to pursue, and what types of academic and working experiences he or she has had.

    In reality, I don’t think most people know what they want to do until they have a few years of “real life” working experience so I think it is very appropriate to take a few years to figure things out. My biggest advice would be do NOT attend graduate school unless you are 100% sure you will use that degree. Many of the professional markets have become saturated because of the number of recent college grads who don’t know what else to do so they decide to head to graduate school. It is too much of a time and money commitment to pursue a JD or MBA on the off chance that you might use it “someday.” That’s just my two cents. Good luck to your son and daughter!

  22. He is graduating from Princeton. He will be fine. He will be guided to make the right choices to fit his personality and talent. And if he chooses to take a path less traveled, or even one less lucrative worry not. If he was smart enough to get accepted to the acclaimed university he is smart enough to succeed in life. He is still young and he still has time.

    I had not a penny to my name when I graduated. Well, I did, but I didn't know it. I turned down many lucrative positions in finance (all leads through connections) because they were not "creative" enough. They were not right for me. I was not passionate about them. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I gone that route. But not often.

    The monies I didn't know I had went to the purchase of my first home when I was 30. I am glad I did not "piss them away" when I graduated. I would have done so too. And not even something as memorable as traveling through Europe or Asian or Indonesia.

    It seems strange to tell you, of all people, to relax. But relax. It will all work out. Really, it will!

  23. Whoops… that should have read Asia and not Asian… Lotta good my college education did for me!!!

  24. For me, a degree in English Lit and a minor in the writing of poems. I'm so happy I studied what I wanted to study.

    I wish I'd done more internships while I was in school. They would have helped with the job part (both the resume and the figuring out WHAT). As it was, I waited tables and nannied to put myself through school, and then until I could do the things I thought I might want to do. It took time. I grew. All we can do is all we can do.

    Chat more, if you'd like. I just got through those years too.

  25. Hi LPC,

    As the mother of 3 sons graduated and out of the house I have a lot to say and then again nothing really that hasn't already been said. I always told my boys to find something they love and the money would follow. I learned that from watching too much Oprah. Honestly, they have told me the opposite. They all work jobs they sort of like to make the most money they can so that they have the money to do what they really love in their free time. So, so much for motherly advice. Detaching from my grown children has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But I have worked hard on it. My husband and I are now living the life we always imagined. Alone! It's pretty great. People say, "don't worry, they'll be fine." But mom's need evidence! Then we can relax.


  26. I graduated from a just-below top tier university with a reasonable idea of the long-term goals, but needing time away to discover the world. So I took that job teaching English abroad that you mentioned and stayed for two years. Both living abroad and teaching were the best decisions I ever made, even if I returned back to the United States with no savings (blew them all on travels) and with no clear direction.

    I took a temp job which led to a great job opportunity that I took. And hated. And then I started as an assistant in the field I'd always wanted to be a part of. They hired me due to my schooling, my experience abroad, and my references, even though I had no business getting a job in that field.

    Of course, I was lucky in the economy back then, but schooling, an interesting resume, willingness to work hard, and connections still matter most. And as for that job in the field I always wanted to work in? Five years later I'm trying to figure out a way to leave. I'll be relying on the skills I gained while teaching and traveling more than the more recent job experience in this "very good career" that I'm in.

    These things will shift, throughout life. I think the post-college figuring-it-out process works well for a lot of people whereas others panic 10 years into an awful career. If he always works hard and is always willing to try new things, and if he's forged strong friendships and connections, your son will find a worthwhile path. Even in this economy.

  27. I'm writing to encourage you not to worry (as several already have). It appears as though your son and I may have had similar trajectories, and I, having majored in the creative arts, did spend a few years waiting tables after graduation in order to make ends meet. What I learned doing so has set me apart in life experience from my peers who jumped directly into the white-collar workforce. My time among the masses has proved invaluable to me as I start my own business and flit between roles as PR spokeswoman, accountant, CEO and customer relations representative. What I earned was around $60,000/year, most of which was cash, untaxed, and much, much more than the starting salary for most 22 year-olds. Not to mention the food and wine knowledge garnered with which I can now impress my potential clients. I've built up a savings, pay for my own Barney's account (and health insurance) and send myself to Paris once a year, just for fun. 401Ks aren't all they're cracked up to be in today's under-30 world. Trust me.

  28. I think it's lovely that you worry about your kids and their careers. I know ideally everyone want to have a job they love but how many of us achieve this? I like my job but being a lawyer is not the funnest career and there are other things that I would like to do. I suppose you just have to be supportive, encourage and let them figure it out for themselves. I know my parents worry about me in a financial sense. I think people of their generation were a lot more conservative with their finances than this generation.

  29. Hi LPC. We all know that we still think as a 20 something now and again. so…with that in mind,I will say, The most important mental construct that I took away from Princeton is…I AM A PRINCETONIAN, and that my Dear one, is all that he will ever need to remember, as he trudges down the road of life.

    With warmest thoughts

    Always Bumby

  30. DON'T FRET – there is plenty of time to change your mind and career options in life.

    I did a BA in Communications/public relations, worked in football administration, then in printing administration, then as the assistant to the marketing manager at Penguin books (much more up my alley) and then as a publicist for Penguin.

    Then I left there and went to live in UK and ended up working in crappy jewellery shop, before working in transition management for a global IT outsourcing company (so not up my alley), before returning to Australia to retrain to become an image consultant.

    Life has many twists and turns. There are always admin jobs that can be got til you work out what you want to do. As long as your kids are making some money and can look after themselves, that's all that is necessary. Often the path doesn't emerge until later in life.

  31. I was fortunate, in that my passion turned out to be a very practical career (I've wanted to be an engineer ever since I was a wee thing, and I am mercifully good at it, plus I entered the market in a boom time). However, I have artsy friends, bohemian friends, and idle layabout friends… I've learned a couple of things from them:

    1. Teaching abroad is a great experience. If you can, do. It's good for the soul as well as the mind, and it's a pretty good living wage. And it doesn't seem to hurt your resume in the slightest (or at least, it got my friends into law school, architecture school, and a cool Google job respectively.)

    2. Charm, tenacity, and chutzpah will get you farther in the job market than a practical degree any day. Entry level jobs are tighter than they used to be, but that just means you want to circumvent HR wherever possible, and woo someone who can actually hire you. Ideally you want them to want to hire you before they ever lay eyes on the resume that says "Comparative Icelandic History" or whatever you're studying. Expect rejection. Lots of it. But keep trying.

    3. Good money management skills go a long way. Live cheaply, no matter how much you're longing for nicer digs, a cool car, gourmet coffee. Invest as much as you can for that first little bit, and it'll take the sting out of the ups and downs that are inevitable when you're first starting out (layoffs, car emergencies…) The difference between the friends who do and the friends who don't is stark and heartbreaking.

    4. If all else fails, consider marrying well. ;)

  32. Thanks for bringing this up. My two are in college, finishing sophomore and junior years, and the same questions whirl around in our heads. I look forward to poring over the responses!

  33. What do you do after a liberal arts degree?
    — road trip across the country
    — get a job in the service industry, so that you can always have compassion for those not fortunate enough to attend Princeton
    — get your hands dirty trying to change the world
    — share a cramped flat with college friends, having painful and hilarious experiences that will provide story fodder for decades
    — use the Princeton smarts to figure out how to pay the bills by working in a field that has nothing to do with your degree
    — take internships where you impress your seniors with your determination and drive
    — get asked to participate in interesting projects….
    — see you career start to take shape
    — eventually, take a break – or departure – from said career for grad school and a stable, decently paying job, relishing the fun and freedom and multitude of experiences you had in your 20s.

  34. So hard I agree to watch them make their way in life but I do think all will be fine and they will find their way in the corporate world (if that is what they want)…. I think the system of deciding what to study at University is a little different in America than UK. My daughter (who is on a gap year at the moment) starts at University in September and will study the same subject for 3 years for her degree… but a close friend of hers went to Princeton straight from school here in UK last September and is studying a selection of subjects to begin with and then will specialise… I do think your system is better there! I am sure your son will be fine – after all – he has you as his Mother as a wonderful guide. x

  35. Your post about second weddings inspired my post today.

    Regarding your son…I had no idea what I wanted to do in my early 20's. I ended up with a BBA because I figured I could always use that in some capacity. Then in my late 20's I finally found my calling…Interior Design…and I was fortunate that my parent's funded my returning to school. But, my BBA was a godsend in opening my own business. My husband's 3 children all went to Vanderbilt. One majored in Spanish…he has been flitting around for a while. As you can imagine, there aren't a lot of opportunities being flung at him.

  36. I went to Steamboat Springs Colorado and was a lift operator for a year (after I went to Europe and then drove cross country). I Think travel is key. I was the social director of my sorority so a career as a pr/event planner was perfect. I took an internship and was hired full time after 4 weeks. Cause I never said "no," I said, "I can do that!" He'll figure it out, major doesn't really matter. I was an anthropology major.

  37. Some majors are easy to make the transition to a salaried job…medicine, engineers, etc..
    I find many people end up in jobs outside their major. I was an English major many, many years ago. Taught a couple of years, ending up running retail shoe stores with my parents for 15 years and now work part time in medical field.
    One of my daughters majored in English. Is a stay-at-home Mom doing part time photography.
    Other daughter majored in Horticulture and is working in her field at this time.
    They will find their way. As my mom always said, "Everbody does something".

  38. I'm 24 and disagree with all the advice not to worry. :) Well, I'm not advising you to worry but I think it is crucial that your son worries. When I see the undergraduates that are blithely making major decisions as if they exist in a vacuum it makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Frankly I have to fight not to sneer at those who do not have a job lined up before they graduate.

    To be fair a lot depends on your parent's class. It seems likely that your connections will enable you to get your college educated children into nice jobs. I didn't have those connections and knew that chances of 'accidentally' through 'charm' and 'hard work' getting something awesome I wasn't particularly qualified for was close to zero (I'm not suggesting there's anything wrong with parents helping out and this kind of thing works well only if the kids can prove themselves – but it does make a huge difference whether or not they have connections). Sure it happens and we hear about it – but it doesn't happen often and there are far more failures than successes.

    I think it is absolutely fine to major in Anthropology or Fine Arts – as long as you do some major research about what you can do with those majors and know what you are going to do for the first couple years. I don't know why we think that someone who's just blown $240,000 on four years and wrote awesome research papers is incapable of researching and making a good decisions about what to do for the next couple of years. Why do all the work six months after graduation when you can do it six months before?

    Whatever you do after college doesn't have to be it, it's okay to take time to find our love/passion – but there's no reason on this earth other than silliness to have a difficult financial time in the meantime.

    For one thing it is entirely possible to do a double major with something you love and something practical.

    I did Anthropology and Economics in three years because I knew I wanted to go to law school and didn't want to be in school forever, loved Anthropology and wanted Economics as a back up.

    I've graduated law school now and love working as a lawyer – I was very lucky to know what I wanted from a young age and I know many are not as lucky but I made sure to hedge my bets and research my options.

    He needs to think about this stuff and have a plan – it's okay for plans to change but not to have a plan is… to be IMO inappropriately childish.

    Also keep in mind that sciency majors are a lot more prestigious :( (unfairly imo) so a major of computer science, physics, or even economics/business will open more doors than the fluffier ones.

    Good luck, I'm sure your son will be fine eventually but I think his chances of being happy with where he ends up go up drastically if he takes control over his own trajectory as soon as possible.

    He's got Princeton's name and you for family – he'll be fine.


  39. Oh and add my voice to those saying for gods sake no grad school unless he's sure .

  40. I was an English major from a top school. Graduated $13,000 in debt (my parents did not have the money to pay for my college), which I suppose is not a lot now but seemed insurmountable in 1985. Still, I paid it off in four years (five years early) because I hate being in debt. Lots of peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.

    I got a job with an insurance company for $20,000/yr. This company had the strategy of hiring liberal arts majors because they could get a lot of really smart people for under market price that way. They were going to have to train them anyhow – who majors in insurance? – so why not get people who knew how to write and analyze, which is what liberal arts majors do?

    In five years, I was making more money than my engineering friends. I left for grad school only because I wanted to work internationally and and an MBA seemed to be the right way to go, which, as it turns out, it was.

    I haven't always loved the jobs I've had – sometimes I've hated them – but I've always thought that the purpose of work was to make the money to do the things you really want to do. If you actually love your job, then that's just icing on the cake.

  41. Another important thing: your 20s are the time to travel and have adventures. I know so many people who went straight into their careers, got married, and had kids and who are now trapped (in their late 40s). They can't leave now: they're VPs or they have alimony or college tuition to pay. I didn't follow a traditional career path (I joined the Peace Corps after business school and have spent a lot of time traveling instead of Being Serious About My Career), but man have I had fun. I have all these great memories – I don't feel as if I missed opportunities back then.

    Career, marriage and children can wait.

  42. LPC, boy can I identify. My daughter is about to graduate from Yale with a degree in Classics and wants to go into publishing. My husband's quip is "from dead languages to a dying industry". She's a very resourceful young woman, and has spread her resume far and wide, gone on informational interviews through the Yale alumni network, etc. We shall see if anything turns up. I'm not worried about her in the long term, and we'll be delighted to have her home for a little while this summer, but still….

  43. Town and Country – My lesson is not his lesson. Yes. That's why it's so great to hear everyone else's lessons:).

    Jennifer P. – That's a great idea, to have a portfolio. And I love Penelope Trunk.

    Hostess – I imagine I'll never let go. Just want to be as informed as I can in my guidance. The decisions, as you say, absolutely belong to him.

    Julia:Ordinary Saturdays – As long as the lean years aren't starvation:). I agree that even practical career education can fail to provide jobs. And that enthusiasm for what you do is important.

    Julie – Thanks for the reassurance. My son would make a good lawyer, I believe, if the creative path doesn't take him where he wants to go.

    Entertaining Mom – I'm looking forward to more of your stories:).

  44. Amanda – Yes, let's chat. Please. Thank you.

    The Gardener's Cottage – Hahaha. Too much Oprah. And I think that's one of the critical choices in live, do you look for satisfaction or just survival from your job? Does what you love become a hobby or a career?

    Los Angeles Love – Very on point. The travel. The choosing where to go upon return. The need to forge relationships if you want to follow a less orthodox path.

    Greenologist – You sound as though you have the perfect temperament to be an entrepreneur. Congratulations.

    Faux Fuchshia – Did you go directly to law school after college?

  45. Wow, you've inspired a lot of thought here! All I can say is: have you been reading my mind again? My son is a sophomore studying film at a very good art school in NYC. Every time I think about what he'll do to earn his living upon graduation, I feel a little ill. I think he's thinking of grad school, but that gives him further debt. I know he'll find his way, but this is what we do as mothers, no? Try and anticipate what may befall them in the future. And kick the hell out of it…

  46. Bumby – I have stressed that his time at Princeton is probably a once in a lifetime experience and to see it as such.

    Imogen – The missing data for me has been those admin jobs you can get to fill in as you figure out what you want to do. When I was that age I took those kinds of jobs in the theater and earned almost nothing whatsoever, since I had that option.

    Aleatha – Those who love engineering really love it. I work with engineers. Consider yourself fortunate in that passion. I'm sure you do already. Thanks for the data from your other friends.

    Madeline – Aren't these answers amazing? I've also gotten a couple via email. Such a great resource, these people are. I had no idea. Silly me.

    Walking Barefoot – Thanks for the reminder to be thankful for the good fortune and not just perseverate in anxiety about the possible future risks.

  47. Semi Expat – In this case my son is terribly lucky to have you readers as a guide:). I've been sort of annoyingly less than useful to date.

    Jill – I love your second wedding post. Anyone who wants to see a fab wedding suit, go here.

    Beth Dunn – Funny, I was just telling my son that I think his time as pledgemaster for his fraternity might be as valuable as anything else he has done. I must hasten to add, so as not to misrepresent, it's a very untraditional fraternity:).

    Connie – I suppose it's like when they are babies and we worry about a milestone and someone reminds us that by the time they get to college everyone is toilet trained…

    Victoria – Thanks for weighing in with the less follow your bliss side of things. Frugality is another piece I missed as a young person:).

  48. I don't have children and my nephews are both headed in non liberal arts directions (applied math and pre med). The one practical comment I have is that your son can now get heath insurance through your policy (assuming you have insurance) until he is 26. Many "starter" jobs don't offer insurance and I have many patients who have two part time jobs – no benefits.

  49. Class factotum – So you're in the camp of work is for $$$ and the joy happens elsewhere. Somehow I always thought of that as failing. I am sure it's because of my background. Need to shift my attitude, clearly.

    Booklady – Hahaha. One thing I would say is for your daughter to get onto Twitter. Or you, for that matter, or your husband. The entire publishing and literary agent community seems to hang out there, and talk a lot about the future of books and publishing.

    Maureen – Yeah. Kick it baby:). Of course media, of the non-printed type, is only going to grow going forward.

    Doc P – Until 26? Go health care reform. Of course, I am on COBRA right now, but still.

  50. I should add, LPC, that all the steps I listed above (and many that I did not), and all the things I learned along the way were essential to achieving my present position as a professor, teaching my own obscure specialty, to amazingly smart and motivated students, in my favorite city in the world , with great colleagues. Point being: the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.

    Back in the lean years, my parents might have liked me to have a practical degree (not Religious Studies), but they always confidence that I'd get it figured out, and I did. That did require going back to school for quite a while, but only after a I knew what I was passionate about.

  51. I'm not in my twenties, I'm in my forties. However, I still interview and work with recent college grads all the time. My advice is for your son to major im something that is percieved as "difficult" – mainly math or science – and minor in something he loves. Business and English majors are a dime a dozen. Chemistry or Statistics majors are rarer and get my attention.

  52. I wish I'd had the time to join in this conversation as whole-heartedly as I responded to it. My four adult offspring have all been supporting themselves quite decently for some time now, although two are currently back in school (one shifting from cooking at a fairly serious level to qualifying as a Registered Massage Therapist; the other finishing a BCom after several years working in hospitality with a two-year diploma). My oldest two both have B.Arts in not-particularly-practical disciplines (History Major/english Minor for one and English Major/Women's Studies Minor for another) — the oldest did a Master's in Library Science and is well-employed as a Cybrarian" and the second is continually studying to advance as certified professional in the Insurance industry. Seems as if they will probably all be cycling between passions and pragmatism, and they should expect to be studying new skills and knowledges for a lifetime. While practicality is important in putting a roof over the head and some food in the belly, I am convinced (from my biased position as an English Prof) that no knowledge is wasted, and that the discipline acquired in pursuit of any passion can be directed to pragmatic pursuits when necessary. Simplistic as the mantra may be, I'm coming to accept some of what my son says, "It's all good, mom, it's all good" . . .

  53. I graduated with an English degree from Georgia in 2002 and went right back to waiting tables, managing coffee shops, and slinging drinks, just like I'd done every summer in college. It was good for me – the responsibility of time, of money, and especially the dealing with people, whether I was in a bad mood, or they were (it's always one or the other, when you work the front of the house). Two years later, I wearied of living paycheck to paycheck, and applied for law school. The time was right, for me. And I think a legal education is the very best kind to have – I graduated from law school with more confidence, and more importantly, more common sense, than I had before matriculation. By that I mean that law school taught me how to figure out just about anything, whereas before if I didn't know how to do something, I would just plunge in without a thought to the consequences of ill-preparedness. I may not practice law forever (I do it part time, now) but I'll never regret my legal education. However, I should also say that I shopped around for a scholarship, as opposed to a fancy law school, and I graduated practically debt free. I don't know if I'd be waving the legal education banner if I were $160,000 in debt because of it.

    Your chicks will find their way, and make good friends on the journey.

  54. What did I do? Majored in nursing, obtained my license, secured a job with benefits and lived on my own. I also worked and scholarship-ed my way through a public university. I'm now (at 25) pursuing my masters in a desirable specialty that will afford autonomy and excellent compensation. When I was in high school, I turned down a full ride to an elite liberal arts school at the last minute because I was afraid it would not provide me with a practical means of living. Would it have been more interesting? I'm fairly certain that it would have. However, I'm also fairly certain that I would now be in the limbo that most of my 20 somethings friends are. Those who aren't? Healthcare/medicine, law, engineering.

    That said, I'm sure that everyone else will be fine, it will just take awhile for them to find their places. The financial security was more important to me than creative academia. I doubt I would be able to achieve my expected salary at 26 had I gone into anything else. I find my job fulfilling, and I get to wear pajamas every day ;o) Best of luck to your children as they pursue and realize their dreams! I really enjoy your blog.

  55. Your children both sound like high achievers (as does their mama). The one thing I would strongly urge is that whether they take time off post graduation or not, they really need to get graduate degrees.

    The work world has changed dramatically since you and I graduated. Competition is fierce–do you think college grads in India and China are struggling to decide whether or not to take a few years off after undergrad school? No way. They are enrolling in grad school and applying for the jobs they will be working at at the same time. By the time they turn, say, 25, their resumes are plstinum. They might not have found themselves, but there's a lot of peace to be found in a six-figure paycheck.

  56. I'm with anonymous on graduate degrees. I am a financial analyst and know that having a CPA and MBA is what gets me in the right resume pile.

    BTW, I have an undergraduate degree in psychology and art history. I believe that the liberals arts enrich your life and broaden you mind. Vocational training is very limiting in this changing world.

  57. As a college senior, graduating this August, I thought I'd add my two-cents.
    I began as a French major, but quickly had the sort of crisis it sounds like you're having on behalf of your son. I switched to the business school, and found I enjoyed it just as much, if differently, than my French studies.
    However, I am in need of a job less than five months from now, and have nothing lined up. So, clearly choosing a major with a clear(-er) professional path hasn't helped much.
    Let your son do what he loves, and worry about making money doing it (or not doing it) later. I'm glad I ended up as a business major, but only because it turns out that I enjoy business (or at least I enjoy my subset of the business world, supply chain management). Now I'm at the stage of figuring out how to make money doing it… and I will, eventually.

    (and yes, having a global job market makes things a bit more competitive… but if your son is smart, and judging by his mother I'd venture a guess he is, then he'll figure out how to work that to his advantage)

  58. I would have to recommend a trip to the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation for testing. They thoroughly test and evaluate aptitudes. My siblings and I have all been. My aptitude results were about as I had expected but my career path was narrowed for me to focus on PR and planning rather than anything having to do with math. My sister was very interested in architecture only to discover she lacked depth perception.
    Last year took my niece for testing. She is in college, disabled, and clueless about what she can achieve post graduation. They were able to get her to see her strengths and focus on maximizing them into a strong career path. She is a new person with a great attitude, perfect grades, and a bright future ahead.

  59. A contrarian weighs in.
    1. Look at university as you would have looked at junior college 30-40 years ago. Get skills so you are employable, preferably in a field you like (bliss is rather rare). E.g., sociology is fine but get the teaching credentials too.
    2. Liberal arts do broaden your mind (per Lindy) but don't look solely to the academy; develop your mind on your own. Which you will have to do anyway, once you graduate, if you want a lively intellectual life. Those people taking trades training are not necessarily uncultured.

    I am seeing more and more kids with BAs returning to trade programs to get marketable skills.

    3. People with non-transferrable skills end up managing coffee shops or taking trainee jobs in insurance companies, which is fine, if it pleases them. If people have life goals that require a high income, they usually end up back in business or law school (for example).

    My very educated guess is, with you as a mother, both your children are intelligent, aware and value achievement. That, plus the quality of their education, will help immeasurably.

  60. You have so many encouraging suggestions already. Being a mother of two girls, 32,20, I can only say that very much depends on the individual young. Encouraging, when needed, stepping aside, when needed. A healthy young person can find her/his place in our society. My 20 year one is suffering of depression, unable to continue her education, unable to accept help of any kind. Hearing tales like these, make you grateful to have healthy children.

  61. Anon – I believe my son should major in what he loves, and with a certificate (they don't have minors at Princeton) in something perceived as hard, or technical. So I see the value in your statement, but might advise a slightly different approach.

    Mater – I am coming away from this with several good mantras. "It's all good…"

    Glaciercounty – Thanks. I am hearing a lot that grad school or professional school of some sort will be a serious possibility.

    Austyn – The key piece was that you knew financial security was more important to you, so you made the choice for a practical major of your own volition. And thanks for enjoying my blog. I really appreciate it.

    Anon – I'm familiar with China and India graduates. They come by their ambition and focus from a very different environment than kids in the US. It's pretty hard as a parent to force choices on US kids that mirror those of India and China. But I agree completely that continuing to bring that perspective to the discussion is important.

  62. Lindy – I agree with you and Anon.

    Kate – Thanks for the reminder that the practical major isn't a guarantee. I think these comments are doing me the immeasurable service of showing me that I want to tell my son to follow his heart, but I just need to have a better understanding of the risks and the safety net in that approach.

    Tintarosa – Thank you. I will make sure my son knows about this resource. I think I've heard of the place before.

    Duchesse – It just occurred to me that some people can do just as you recommend and others cannot. If my son majors in what he loves, his grades are apt to be much better than if I twist his arm into something more practical. BTW, Princeton isn't full of majors like accounting etc. And if his grades are better, maybe law school is more possible as a want to make money strategy later.

    Metscan – I send my best wishes to your daughter and only hope she finds your way out of this. Thank you for reminding me to be thankful. Even more thankful than I am.

  63. My brother graduated from Vanderbilt with a double major in Spanish and Anthropology. He has been living and working in China with a program that is based out of Nashville and takes fresh undergrads (and others) who want a change of scenery, and helps them figure things out while earning money and learning another culture and language. It's pretty amazing and has changed my brother's life. He is now headhunted by private schools in the US to teach Spanish AND Chinese, and has a nice little savings of $ from living in a Communist country where most of their expenses are provided anyway. Pretty neat!

  64. Let me butt in and offer my two cents. I know nothing of the privilege you speak of but I know something of the post graduate career and its adventures.
    I transferred out of my 1st major, art (a dsicipline in which I was always talented and am now underskilled), avoided a subject I was passionate about (sociology), and in stead chose to persue a degree that was practical; business/communications.
    After graduation I took a job with a Fortune 500 and had some level of success, winning trophies and all sorts of things.
    Then a bubble bursts, stocks tank, and credit shuts off… and Fortune 500's cut staff beginning with the young.
    There I was qualified and experienced in an industry I despised and inexperienced or unqualified to do the professions I would preffer. So much for being sensible.

    Moral, let the kid chase what he enjoys. If you like it, you will find a way to make it work.

    I'm doing fine now. Better than fine in fact, but now I have thrown off being safe ans sensible in favor of all that colorful dream chasing my middle class upbringing tried to beat out of me.

  65. Worthington- That sounds like an amazing opportunity. Young alumni networks can be so useful and are often overlooked.

    LPC- How does your son spend his summers? Many students find that their internships yielded more connections that school itself, and with a degree from Princeton in the works, he certainly would make an ideal candidate. Surely there are internship opportunities in your neck of the woods, if mother-love precludes summer travel ;o)

  66. Worthington – I think some time in Asia is invaluable for most Westerners, new grads to oldies like me:). Good for your brother.

    Brohammas – I understand completely.

    Austyn – Oh, he travels. He travels…

  67. I'm in the same boat with my son, although he's at Bard, not Princeton. When we were at university, it felt luxurious to be able to study philosophy (in my case), comparative literature (in yours) but now there seems to be a rising, choked panic that if students don't decide on law or medicine or a business degree they will be doomed (there was a piece on this on NPR last week which I can't find now).

    When I was a business owner, I didn't really care what my interns were majoring in as long as they were smart and had a real work ethic. The worst trait of this generation seems to be a sense of entitlement which is a turn-off to most employers. In fact, it's just downright dull.

    I hope that my son (and yours) finds what he loves and follows his heart and I hope that, as impractical as it sounds, the adage "If you follow your heart, the money will follow" is true.

    This probably didn't help at all but I'm glad to find other people worrying about the same things I'm worrying about!

    — Bumble (Miss W)

  68. My solution was to keep going to school. It's the only place where they still pay you for doing humanities. Not that it's much money. But any good PhD program comes with funding and then, eventually, turns into a real job.

    Or so I'm told.

  69. While some have suggested that grad school is not the appropriate path for someone unsure of what they want to do, I must disagree. I entered a masters program in economics after graduating from a small liberal arts school and a summer of la vie boheme.

    My senior year of college I had very little idea of what I wanted to pursue as a career, but now, two years later, I have a job lined up which I expect to be both fulfilling and lucrative. For some, grad school can provide the extra direction and time to land on the right career.

  70. Btw, though the Paul Graham essay relates to high school, I think the advice could easily be applicable to university.

  71. Hi LPC, I am glad to hear that you have advised him that Princeton is a probably a once in a life time event, It is. My experience however,has been that out of the eight,in the 'Real'world,Princeton holds a very special place, well above all the others. What I was trying to express in my last comment, which I admit was poorly worded, was that although the Event only happens once, the mental construct of being a Princetonian, lasts a life time and should not be discounted in his journey.

    Always Bumby

  72. Dear LPC, your posting reads to me – you know, the not-native-speaking-one as if you weren't too sure if your son would be willing to make his hands dirty for a living.
    The question if there are jobs isn't the question, there always are. But is your son the one who will take a job just for the income if necessary. I remember me standing at the frying-machine at Mc D. at the age of 15 during summer vacation. I earned less than unemployed get from the government. It had 32° C outside and my sneakers well greasy all over. My mother paid me a visit, looked at me and said " from now on I will never worry if you will be able to make your living".
    Back than I wasn't working for a living, but perfume, fashion and just because I was bored during the long school break. I can tell you – these words are written in stone. They made me feel safe when it comes to jobs and surviving. I managed being unemployed with an excellent academic degree for more than a year. Back then I never doubted. Thanks to my mother. It weren't just words she spoke out loud then. It was an insight she had. And – a relieve I understand better now, reading your posting.

  73. LPC, I've been thinking about your post since Saturday and just haven't had the time to comment. Of course you've had so many excellent comments that I probably don't need to add mine but here it is.

    What I've found through my experience is that it really doesn't matter what you major in, especially at a school that is advanced as Princton. But, I would counsel all college students to take a lot of courses that require writing, because writing will be necessary in whatever career they eventually end up in. And in our family we have a motto, "Study Accounting" because it helps in life, no matter what you do, to understand accounting, or be smarter than you accountant as my husband used to say.

    I've blogged about one of my assisants, Berkeley undergrad and a UCLA law school graduate who can't get a decent legal job. At the same time my son's girlfriend, a Cornell undergrad who also graduated from UCLA law school the same year, is now billing $400 an hour in her family law practice. I've learned that it is less about the state of the economy and more about the decisions of the individual and my assistant was never really passionate about working in law.

    Also, I came of age in an era when one didn't aspire to government work. Well now that we know that the only growth in the job sector is coming from government jobs, that may be the place to aim.

    I've always regretted not haveing gone to Georgetown and studying for the Foreign Service. I would have loved to have been in the diplomatic core. If you son works abroad after school, he may find that he wants to continue with a career in the Foreign Service, and if he is fluent in at least one foreign language (preferably Chinese) he will be in demand in our increasingly global economy.

    Even in this economy I don't think that the outlook is bleak for Ivy League graduates. But I wouldn't want to be graduating from a medium level school with huge student debt right now.

  74. LPC, I would preface what I say here with, your son (as you know) will absolutely find his feet and most probably be wonderful in his career.

    It's actually been so lovely to read these comments as a twenty-something who has just finished her PhD (in American lit – hello non-vocational degrees!).

    What I have noticed anecdotally is this: people my age are finding their way, sometimes via very different pathways than they expected. I have management consultant friends who have gone into government, law school friends who have gone back and studied medicine (!!!!), and English majors try their hand at banking. It seems to me that the one constant is that these are smart, determined people who have minds open to new opportunities and are willing to accept that life may look different to how they thought it might. And that this isn't a bad thing.

    A most excellent post. I don't think I've been very helpful, but I hope I'm in the rallying crowd!

  75. LPC, to add one thing: 3 siblings – one studies economics, the second marketing, the third visual arts (at the academy of fine arts). who is making big money? the one who studied what I was interested in: visual arts. needless to say it took years for the parents to accept that the son really is making money and not just an artsy student/academic. the framesets are strong …

  76. Get a college degree in something, anything.
    Only after having that paper one still needs connections. It's all about who you know in getting a foot in the door for a job.

    Connections connections connections!

    Oh the politically correct word is networking ;D

  77. Miss Whistle – Yes, it does help to know that I am not wholly off my rocker:). And I thought very seriously about going to Bard when I was applying to colleges.

    Mouse – Oh yes, we are big believers in Ph.D.'s in my family. I'm the only one of my siblings without one. I think the life of a professor is a wonderful one, but the life of an aspiring professor can be very nail-biting.

    Anon – Sounds like you were one of the lucky ones who could choose graduate studies well, early.

    Fuji – Thank you. I will be reading that essay with care. Good advice.

  78. Paula – You are so right. Skills are only a part of it all. Attitude, willingness, to get one's hands dirty, or to put oneself on the line, have as much or more of a role in how we work over time.

    Belle – Couldn't agree more about writing. And Accounting was the most difficult class I EVER took:). My professor even questioned my intelligence at one point. I did too. Still can't even do my own taxes.

    Kate – I was thinking of you and some of the other grad students/academics out there and hoping you'd chime in. Thanks.

    Sher – Politically correct or not, you are very right…

  79. Let's see, fresh out of school with a B.A. in English Lit. , I cast about and answered an ad for a position with "no experience required." Two years later, I quit teaching ballroom dance and started freelancing as a direct mail fundraiser. Then it was copywriting at ad agencies. Then a stint in retail before building an agency. And in between… oh yes, a brief sojourn to Europe with a soon to be second wife.

    Not terribly helpful, I'll admit. But it's been interesting anyway. Most new graduates I know go right back to school for the next degree. College graduates seem to be a dime a dozen these days.

    Wonderful site!

  80. Your son will only have one chance in his life to be in his early 20s and to spend all day reading / studying / thinking about whatever the heck he wants to.

    He will probably have 30 more years, later on, to worry about jobs, promotions and working his way up the career ladder.

    My parents, too, were worried about my studying something as useless as English lit. (Even I admit it's pretty useless, career-wise). They even told our Hong Kong relatives I was in "pre-law." Since, some Lit majors eventually study law, right?

    They just bragged, again, to my husband that, 15 years ago, I got into law school.

    The roller coaster didn't stop for them when I launched my career as a "freelance magazine journalist" in Canada, supplemented by scraping together child-care, tutoring and admin work.

    It was only a few years ago, after I landed steady staff work at a major paper in my late 20s, that they finally stopped worrying.

    My parents have always been supportive, and I get where the worry comes from.

    The Laus never had a family fortune to lose. While we managed to scamper into the middle class when I was in my teens, our roots are immigrant and working class. The idea that I wouldn't be able to support myself was scary.

    But I still think they never should have worried, and neither should you. If your son is smart and educated, he'll be fine.

  81. Easy and Elegant – ballroom dancing to copywriting. We know, you're really Don Draper, right? Thanks for the kind words.

    Joyce – Well then. Your story convinces me. Clearly, if it wasn't clear before, I have nothing to worry about.

  82. Coming late to the party, but as a 25 year old applying to graduate school for this fall, the subject has been on my mind a lot lately. :)

    I graduated from a completely unknown, wildly liberal college with the made-up major of "Psychology of Society and Culture" and got a relatively well paying job 2 weeks after I started looking, which I continued in and enjoyed for the past two years. My husband went to nursing school because it was the practical decision, couldn't find a job for about nine months after graduating, and is currently unemployed.

    My friends are in similar positions. Weirdly, the only person I know who got a job specifically because of her major was an English major. The thing I have come to believe about the current job market is that the jobs are out there. You only need one job. But to be the applicant accepted, it has to be the PERFECT job for you, the one you are uniquely qualified for through education, work history, and hobbies. You can't plan for that.

    I also highly disagree that grad school is necessary. My agency runs several afterschool activity programs, and every time they post an ad for an instructor they receive applicants with MAs, MFAs, PhDs, MEds. We're talking part time minimum wage jobs, here. Grad school doesn't guerrantee anything, and the costs are wildly disproportionate to what most graduates can expect to earn right out of school.

    It's kind of comforting, in a way: the job market is so screwy, there is no way to be sure of getting a well-paid job, so you might as well do what you love. Well, and network, and work REALLY REALLY hard at everything you do, and jump on every opportunity you see with everything you've got. But you can do that with any major.

  83. Yes. I got this far behind. Shhh. I turned 30 and went to New York and my husband graduated from law school and I've been working all the time. AHH! But you knew that.


    Sounds like you have this mostly figured by now, and I only read some of the 83 comments before me (including my dad's). But another voice never hurts, right? And I'm probably saying something slightly different than everyone else.

    Mostly, he needs to be interesting and level headed. I did my share of intern-and-the-like hiring, and probably will again, and I always hired people that 1) were interesting 2) had something to talk about 3) were passionate about things 4) Could use excel and write well. So, basically that's my list of what a well trained liberal arts person should be able to do.

    What do they need to LEARN to do? I'm glad you asked. They need to learn to: pay the bills without help, be totally totally broke (they won't stay that way), use public transportation in any city in the world on a moments notice, network with a drink in their hands (at dive bars, art galleries, "art galleries," friends parties). Live with someone they found on Craig's List. Select a suitable Craig's List roommate via interview. Temp. Maybe wait tables (though that was never my gig).

    What can you help with? Excellent question because there are tangible things: Health care. You shouldn't help them with regular bills, but if you can keep them insured, that's key. Occasional trips homes. New jeans sometimes, because when you are broke jeans are expensive. Work clothes, because if you can't afford work clothes it's hard to get a job. Occasional three figure checks when they threaten to give up and move home. Nice meals when you're in town. Long phone calls. Faith.

    He'll figure it out. It will probably be really painful, but it will also probably be really fun. The fun will win in the end. Oh, and I can't imagine your son isn't going to do anything other than adventurously fabulously well.

    PS The Princeton degree is his safety net. Trust me. Where my degree didn't hold water (which it normally did), I just used all my endless Stanford friends degrees as my safety net. Like, look, I'm with them, and I am as bright as any one of them, I've got what it takes (I'm resourceful like that, using other people's degrees as my safety net).

  84. Our son majored in History at a very good liberal arts university. His grades could be described as so-so. Then, he went to China—lived in Beijing and attended a university there for two years—studying Mandarin. He took a job in Southern China with a company dealing in alternative energy. When he came back to the United States, that same company hired him for their LA office. After a year, he tripled his salary going to work for another Chinese company in the same field. He’s scrappy. He’s resourceful. He works very very hard.

    His advice would be to do what you really want to do—if you want to study a language, for example, you’ll find a way to make it work for you. If you are idealistic and care about the environment, you can find a job where you can make a difference. In other words, pursue what you want to do–even if it doesn’t pay much initially. Work hard, and then move up.

Comments are closed.