How to Get Your Child Off of Your Payroll and On To Someone Else’s
Like most high school juniors, my daughter has no idea what her college major will be, much less what she’ll wind up doing for a living. And like most parents, I can be politically correct and say, “I just want her to be happy.” However, the ideal solution, of course, is for her to be happy and self-supporting. But given today’s economy, a college degree does not always ensure self-sufficiency as an outcome. As proof, talk to the baristas at your local Starbucks: they may be even better educated than you.
This issue hit home a few weeks ago, when my wife and daughter went off to their first college visit. Given the fact that we are probably talking about an investment in the $250K range, it seemed only reasonable that I give this a little thought, despite the fact that my signature on the checks will not allow me access to my child’s grades.
So I started thinking about how to help my daughter apply a return on investment (ROI) mindset to her education. A challenge – especially since her current prevailing interests in college visits revolve around shopping, socializing, texting and dining out.
I want to increase my daughter’s awareness of the importance of considering choices and consequence. In business terms, I want her to focus on achieving returns and a desired outcome. This mindset will serve her well in life, regardless of her career path. So I offer three recommendations for those of us faced with helping our children maximize their investment in future independence.
First, help your child define their expectations regarding the outcomes of their college experience. What kind of lifestyle do they hope to lead? Where would they like to live? Do they have a career path in mind? All of these things should impact their decision on where to go to school and how they will need to apply themselves during their undergraduate years. College is an opportunity to gain tools and knowledge in order to have a rich and successful life. Beginning with clear expectations in mind will help them focus their efforts and narrow their choices in directing their college experience. I am not suggesting that helping them achieve a clear set of expectations will happen in one conversation–start now, their expectations will evolve, but the process could take some time.
Second, educate your child on the reality that a college degree is not the only factor considered in the hiring process. We can help our kids by having them consider how they will differentiate themselves from the competition during their college career. Internships, research projects, multiple majors, summer jobs, team projects and charitable activities are some examples of choices they can make or activities they can become involved in that will help them stand out from the crowd. Future employers will look beyond the college degree to see what they have done that demonstrates a strong work ethic, the ability to apply themselves to a task despite adversity, and work productively as a team member. Helping your child to understand this will give them a tremendous leg up in securing a reasonably well paying job and beginning on the path of a promising career.
Third, just like they will be held accountable in work force, we should help our kids understand that they need to hold themselves to an acceptable level of performance: otherwise, they will be limiting their future opportunities. A 2.0 grade point average will not land them great internships, a place on a professor’s research project, or a space on the sign up sheets for corporate interviews. Average performance will lead to average opportunities that will seriously limit future options and most likely curtail achievement of desired outcomes.
I think parents can do more for their kids by helping them achieve an ROI mindset, than the writing of a check could ever do. By helping my daughter define her desired outcomes and understand the impact the choices she makes will have on those outcomes, I hope to help her build her own prosperous future.