Voices of Experience

Parent advice about career choices

Tell your student:

It's OK if they don't have a career plan. My daughter was feeling a little pressured at one point this year because both of her roommates had made decisions already. Continue to advise your student to take a wide variety of classes, and it helps if you have a friend or relative with a unique career outcome. My niece wanted to major in art but found she liked French better, went on a trip to France after she graduated, got married there, and now teaches painting and French cooking to Americans in her husband's company. I also talk to my daughter about the promotions people have received at the company where I work. One person had graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in communications, started out at our company in some sort of entry-level position, and worked her way up to a vice president position in merchandising—totally another field. SW

Advice for parents:

A September question of the month asked parents, “How much influence do you think you—as a parent—should have on your student's career choice?” Their responses are noted below, along with comments they added.

A lot—11
A little—187
Very little—135

A lot:

  • Not directly on the type of career but in helping the student to find those skills he has and what he excels about, these will influence the student to take decisions on their career choices.


  • So long as the influence is based on the student, not the parent.
  • I want to provide knowledge, understanding, and encouragement, but I don’t want to directly influence the decision.
  • Parents can help their kids by helping them learn networking skills early, and helping them to meet people in the widest number of careers possible. The U.S. Department of Labor has identified over 500 job titles—most of us are exposed to only a small number. This limits our vision of what career options are out there.
  • I encourage their choices with the thought that a large group of students change their major during their time in college. My goal is for them to have a bachelor’s degree in something and go from there.
  • As far as helping them, think creatively about their choices and their gifts and interests. Not influence as in—this is what you should be doing when you grow up.
  • As moral support and guidance only.
  • Influencing only in respect of showing them some resources about their interests.
  • As a parent, one can only do so much and then the child must take over. The parent should expose the child to as many options as possible, but ultimately, it is the child’s career choice.
  • Coming from experience I think any advice is good advice to help them make their own decision.
  • As a parent you can help explain the job market, as well as helping them to understand their passions in life, instead of training (and paying) for education that doesn’t apply to what motivates them to get up every morning.
  • I would hope that my child would value the life lessons that I can share with her.
  • We encourage our child to talk to as many people as possible about possible career paths.
  • It is our job to guide them toward their strengths, not tell them completely what to do.
  • To further the answer of “some” I feel that having consistent dialogue with them for the next four years is important since as parents we have known their strengths and weaknesses, etc. Their career decisions are their own, but parents should be in the loop for the discussion along with their counselors, etc.
  • Children learn by example, so I think they pick up a lot of things watching their parents, probably more than listening to their parents.
  • We should at least give them our pro and cons on the different choices available to them.
  • Available for advice when asked. The decision will be the student’s (they have to live with the type of work they choose).
  • I think influence is more through encouragement than deciding for her. She chose, we supported her decision.
  • I just want to be a resource.

A little:

  • If our child were heading down a career path that didn’t mesh with his strengths/ is something he is obviously (to us) unsuited for, we would have to say something. Or if the reverse were true, we would definitely encourage him. But that’s about it.
  • My son has known what career he’s wanted since the 10th grade, so we haven’t had much input.
  • Young people are not aware that some careers even exist.
  • A student’s passion and calling should get the highest respect but sometimes they’re choosing among several medium choices and get little respect from anywhere (based on the process for choosing a college and a major). Parental guidance should be useful but not overbearing.
  • Any influence we’ve had has already happened.
  • We have a responsibility to encourage our children to work up to their potential, as well as choose a career that will provide for their self-reliance.
  • Our daughter is a bright and hard working student making excellent academic choices. We trust her judgment and just want to be supportive of her own career and life decisions.

Very little:

  • I believe the child is looking for direction, but usually not from the parent but from the others he/she meets along the way.
  • We “should” have very little. I believe that we do influence choice in ways that we do not intend—they are taking great notice of our vocational choices, outcomes and satisfactions. Perhaps the best we can do is to try to encourage discussion about and interest in career exploration.
  • This is college student #4 for us and we were surprised by the other three career choices, and I’m sure this one will also be a surprise—our only influence was to try and motivate them to learn and find their own path.
  • My only concern is that he doesn’t end up in a position that requires weekends and holidays. Life is too short and family is too important.


  • The only thing I would want to influence would be to have my son become knowledgeable about his chosen profession (i.e., can he make a living at it; can he pay back his student loans with a job in his chosen field?). The choice of a career is entirely up to him. We will be there to advise if he wants, but I would not want to influence him and then find out that he hates the choices we made for him.

Additional comments:

  • A parent should always encourage a child to live and work up to his full potential, guiding, suggesting, but not pushing. The decision has to be their own.
  • I think this is determined by the student, not the parent.
  • We should have influence, but only in support of what career choice the student has. You can always suggest a career path, but accept what the student wants to do and support it. In the end you both will be happy!
  • As a parent I will gladly discuss my student’s options, but ultimately it is my student’s choice.
  • I think that parents should allow their student to decide on their own. However, I feel that parents should always be a positive influence on whatever choice that they make on a career.