Helping Your Child Make the College Decision

John Pritchett of the Waukesha County Technical College Career Development Services Department offers advice to parents of high school students.



11 min 52 sec


Interview with John Pritchett
Project Specialist, Career Development Services
Waukesha County Technical College (11:52)


Interviewer: Today I'm speaking with John Pritchett, Project Specialist with the Career Development Services Department of Waukesha County Technical College, and we're speaking about how to help your son or daughter make the college decision. John, parents walk a fine line when they're helping their children to make the college decision. How can they give advice and guidance without going to far?


John: Well parents, I think have a, kind of a natural interest of course in their son's and daughter's career decision making. In fact, surveys have been done on high school graduates here locally and across the state, and parents are always indicated as having had the greatest influence for the majority of high school graduates on their career decision making and their college plans. And it really is only natural because parents, next to our sons and daughters, we have the most at stake in them hopefully making the best decision they can, when they make that choice about their plans beyond high school. And one of the things that, when I work with parents and students, is to acknowledge that and, you know, realize that being a helicopter parent is not all bad that there's, that parents can go overboard of course, if they really are interjecting or they're almost forcing there sons and daughters to follow plans that they want their sons and daughters to take, rather than supporting their sons and daughters in the fields that they have an interest in. We want our children to be happy, healthy, safe and successful, and when I talk to parents about that, at successful, actually when I'm working with parents and students, I'll ask both to identify what words come to mind when they think of success in their career, and most of the time the parents will, and the students, will talk about job satisfaction, maybe making a certain level of income, job security. Those are some of the types of things that they talk about, but they don't always say that, I think that, my son or daughter need to get a four-year college degree in order to be successful, but often times that's kind of an underlying idea, I think, that a lot of parents have, and so trying to present them with information that may help them consider other options for their son or daughter, or realize that other options are okay, I think is important.

Interviewer: Right, and also, each child is an individual, wouldn't you say? You have to approach each child as an individual.

John: Absolutely. I think parents have a pretty good idea, often times, of the skills, the strengths and the abilities of their son or daughter, so they often times are the best person to provide suggestions for their son or daughter, but I think it's more in the support role rather than telling their son or daughter what they need to do, because we know that students.. There's actually a survey that comes out of UCLA every year about college freshman, and they're always asked about the reasons noted as very important in deciding to go to college. Of those students, the ability to get a better job, to learn about things of interest, training for a specific career are some of the ones that are at the top of that list are to be able to make more money, to become a more cultured person. But there are some other reasons that students sometimes indicate and almost half indicated that "parents wanted me to go" as very important in deciding to go to college. Also, some indicated that they wanted to get away from home, they couldn't find a job, or there was nothing better to do. Well we know that if those are the main reasons that somebody chooses to go to college, the chances are that they are going to be part of that group that does not graduate. They're going to lack their own motivation to be there. One of the other things that I share with parents and students, though, is a letter written by LeAnn Bruner Clark, to parents in looking at a career as being what we do to make a life, not just earn a living, and that there's far more involved in a person's career than just a series of job title on a resume. And she actually provides some questions that I think are really helpful for parents and students to discuss as they're making those career decisions. Things like "What kind of family and social life would you like to have? How important are leisure activities? Would this career field compromise or support your spiritual values? And, How much education are you willing to invest time and energy and resources in?" So these are really, I think, helpful for the parents and students to have these discussions, before a student makes a decision. And, final suggestion in this article, I think is really important, she said that, "Modeling a balanced lifestyle has an even stronger positive impact for the parents to model that for their sons and daughters."

Interviewer: You mentioned earlier "helicopter parents", these are parents who become too involved, they hover too much. So what would you say parents should be involved with and what should they stay out of?

John: Certainly providing ideas and support for their sons and daughters is really helpful. They also can help the students with exploring by, maybe they know people who are working in fields that their son or daughter's considering, or would know how to get ahold of somebody to help with setting up informational interviews and maybe job shadowing experiences to find out if that field really, or occupation, is something that the student really has an interest in.

Interviewer: Are there any other tips that you can give to parents in this situation?

John: I think parents, once they've provided the support, they need to, should try and let their sons and daughters deal with things like class scheduling, dealing with instructors, and once the students have completed their program, in their job search, I believe it's important, that parents stay out of contacting employers for their sons and daughters, whether it's for internships or co-op experiences or for the job search. That is an area I think parents need to really let their sons and daughters handle that area of their job search. When I talk to parents, I really try to stress that there is no one path to success in career or in life. A lot of times students faced with making a career decision are afraid that.. they're really concerned, adults as well, that they're going to make the right or the wrong career decision. And I like to think there's a right or left career decisions. They can turn one direction or another, but whatever they choose to do when they leave high school, they can gain knowledge and skills that they can take with them the rest of their life, and they have to look at wherever they are right now as kind of a stepping stone to the next stop in their career. One of the topics that I talk about with parents and students too, is the fact that job security, basically the way it used to be defined, is an obsolete term. In the past, it really referred to a time in history when companies provided the job security, good pay and benefits in return for lifetime career commitment from the employee but today career security is something that we cannot depend on being provided by any employer and that people really have to develop for themselves, through a continuous process of updating skills, networking and looking at where we are at the moment, as a stepping stone to the next stop on our career journey, and so when individuals feel they have career security, it's because they feel in control of what is happening to them in the workplace, and basically they've become the master of their career, rather than its victim. So it's a whole different attitude about looking at our careers and taking advantage of opportunities. So whether a student starts out in on-the-job training, maybe they've had a summer job, or an internship that has given them the opportunity to move directly into the workplace from high school, or it could be the military or a trade school or a technical college or a two-year college or community college, a four-year college, in-state, out-of-state, private. Those are all options for students when they leave high school, but it's not just one path that every student has to take in order to be seen as successful, you know, out of every high school graduating class, somewhere around 60%, a little more or a little above, go on to a four-year college. Six years down the road, only about half of that group will have graduated. So, if we are thinking that four-year college degree is the identity of success, then we're setting up and looking at probably somewhere around 2/3 of every high school graduating class to be seen as not successful. I think it's a little different, I think, idea of what defines success in a career. I think it's important that people enjoy what they're doing, they are successful in my eyes. It's not just based on what type of education or training that they went through when they left high school.

Interviewer: You bring up an important point too, that lifelong learning and the Tech Colleges are just wonderful that. People can enter back into education at any point in their career if they feel they need additional skills, or an upgrade, or to bring them into the current, the latest, in their field, they can return to the tech college for that sort of thing.

John: And that's a good message for the parents to, to realize too, that the career-planning process that their son or daughter is going through right now, is something they're going to cycle back through at some point in time during their career, their life, because we know that the projections are that students are going to make a number of career changes during a lifetime. We hear estimates as high as 7-10 or 12 job changes or career changes in a lifetime. And some of the jobs that they're going to be working in, we don't even have job title for yet. And it's certainly something that we hear from employers is that they need people who've learned how to learn because the jobs are going to continually change and what a person is doing right now is probably not going to be what they'll be doing in a few years from now.

Interviewer: I've been speaking with John Pritchett, Project Specialist in the Career Development Services Department of Waukesha County Technical College. Thanks very much John.

John: Thank you.

Announcer: Making Futures is a presentation of Wisconsin's 16 Technical Colleges. Thanks for listening.