But what is he going to DO with a degree in Anthropology?
-A common parental lament
After 35 years at the University of California Santa Barbara in a variety of teaching and administrative positions, Aaron Ettenberg, Professor of Neuroscience & Behavior, has learned a thing or two about why some college students succeed and some don’t. He’s also formed opinions about why some parents are helpful and others, despite their best intentions, are not. Here, he advises parents on how to maximize their offspring’s chances of success in higher education.
Understand what college is. . . According to Dr. Ettenberg, “Our job is to create intelligent, thinking citizen leaders. We exist to provide opportunities to explore many fields, develop problem-solving skills, and hone verbal and written proficiency. We give the facts and then expect students to apply those facts to a variety of situations. We are here to open young adults’ eyes to a spectrum of ideas, some of which may excite and others of which may offend, but all of which are part of the university experience.”
. . .And what it is not. “We are not a trade school,” he continues. “At the undergraduate level, we don’t train people for specific careers. We teach critical thinking, whose value is hard to measure. Having said that, every study shows that college graduates earn tens of thousands of dollars more over a lifetime than those with just a high school diploma.”
Be positive. According to Aaron Ettenberg, a parent’s attitude is of paramount importance. If you are doubtful or cynical about the value of a college education, your child will be, too. He urges you to be vocal in your appreciation of this golden opportunity.
Let your child follow his heart. Dr. Ettenberg urges parents to let their offspring “choose their passion. Given the high price of education today, it’s not surprising that parents try to steer their young adults into majoring in a ‘practical’ field with a clear career path. But what if he/she hates it? I feel recruiters are looking for smart, well-educated, talented people and they do not care about his/her undergraduate major!”
Be an adviser not an advocate. According to Dr. Ettenberg, “The best thing a parent can do when a sticky situation arises on campus is to hear the child out. After learning what the problem is, you can then recommend the appropriate person at the school for him/her to approach to help resolve it. This might be a department chair for an academic issue, a psychologist for a personal problem, or a dorm monitor for a roommate conflict. Your interested but hands-off approach conveys trust in your young adult’s ability to handle things and helps him/her grow.”
Encourage your child to find his niche. “At UCSB, where we have about 20,000 undergraduates, an incoming freshman can easily feel lost,” says Dr. Ettenberg. “It’s imperative that he/she develop a support system, even if he/she doesn’t recognize it as such. Whether it’s a sorority or fraternity, club, athletic team, political cause, loose affiliation of gamers or a religious institution, having ties to some group within the university will give him/her an identity and a sense of belonging. Lacking such a network, a loner is more likely to crumble in the face of personal setbacks or a heavy academic workload and drop out. Without pushing it too hard, help your young adult get involved on campus.”
In future posts we’ll discuss college-related funding and accountability issues. In the meantime, please share what’s worked for you when your emerging adult flew the nest.