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College debate is stressing my family.

by Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I’m 16. I am currently a junior at high which means it is time for me to start figuring out my life. I have to pick my 5 colleges to apply to, what I want to major in, and all of that good stuff. I already took the SAT and everything and I really thought I knew what I wanted to do but when my mom asked and I told her she totally shut me down. I was in the car with my mom and she told me that I was going to run out of time if I didn’t start making some decisions now so she asked if I knew what I would want my major to be. I told her I am really interested in psychology and she just said absolutely not. I asked her why and she told me (she is a social worker) that I would never be able to find a suitable job that pays enough to pay the bills unless I went all the way for my doctorate. She said in order to do that I would have to find a job to pay to go back to school again because there would be no way I could pay for it on my own and “money doesn’t grow on trees”. She said that that’s a lot of schooling. I was like but mom why should money matter I just want to help people.

So we got into this whole argument so I was just trying to end it and said “mom I don’t want to talk about college anymore I’m only 16” and she got mad at me and said “you know what, that’s the last time you treat me like that .” and makes me feel guilty about it all. I am getting really stressed out about all of this. How can I be expected to plan out my life at 16. What if I am not smart enough to get into college? I take mostly all honors classes but I never feel as smart as the kids in my class. Anyway, a few days later when we got my SAT scores back my mom asked me if I put more thought into it. So I told her my interests are psychology, nursing, and teaching. She said nursing would be best and I should go to Villanova (which is right now 2nd choice on my list of schools, my first is mount saint Mary I still need to find 3 more) but I told her psychology is what I have the most interest in. My step dad told me I would get sick of hearing people problems all the time and my mom told me to go online and find jobs I could get with a bachelors degree that would have enough pay to live off of and that if I could show her “which will be unlikely” she will consider it.

So, I was wondering your opinion on all of this and if you knew the answer to my moms question. What are some jobs I could get after graduating college? Do you enjoy what you do? Will money truly be a problem? Do you get sick of hearing people’s problems all the time? Is it so bad I just want to help people? Please let me know what you think, I don’t think it is healthy to be this stressed out about this. I am so scared though. I just want to make the right decision. I am begining to second guess myself and I am not ever sure if I know what I want to do with my life. This really sucks I am only 16!

It sounds to me like your folks just want to make sure that you are investing your time and their money wisely as you think about your future. I know it’s hard to hear that. (It really is hard for people to hear each other when they are arguing.) But it does look like they are trying their best to guide you into a profession that will give you enough financial reward that you will be able to take care of yourself. We can’t fault them for that.

But it does look to me like everyone is getting way ahead of themselves. Here’s the truth. Very, very few kids your age know exactly what they want to do. That’s why most colleges expose you to many different kinds of courses for the first two years. They want you to see the whole menu before you choose. Most kids don’t declare a major until Junior year. The majority of students who do declare a major before then end up changing their minds. Furthermore, the world is rapidly changing. New professions are getting invented every year. Old standbys are disappearing. We really can’t predict now what you might find fascinating three years from now and what career paths may or may not be possible. Choose a good liberal arts college, get exposure to lots of new and interesting fields, and the question of what you should major in will probably get answered all by itself.

Meanwhile, stop stressing. You are smart enough to get into lots of colleges. Please don’t make yourself crazy about choosing a school. Yes, going through the process adds a whole layer of extra stuff on an already busy life. But millions of kids (and their parents) do it every year. Millions of guidance offices help their students get through it all. And most kids get into one of the schools they picked. You will too.

To answer your specific questions about psychology: I love what I do. I find people endlessly interesting and I never get sick of listening to people’s problems (and I’ve been doing it for 35 years!). Yes, it is harder to make a living with only a Bachelors degree but there are worse things than having to go to graduate school. I for one loved it. Most people I know work for a few years in the field to get some experience and then get a Masters degree while working part time. Specialties like Special Education, autistic or intellectually disabled children, or geriatrics are some of the careers that are promising right now. If you are truly interested in nursing, you could consider specializing in psychiatric nursing. That would be a blend of both areas of interest. People don’t make a million dollars a year working in human services, it’s true. But you can make a very reasonable living if you develop particular areas of expertise and if you develop some management skills.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

P.S. I’ve written a number of articles about going to college for LifeHelper in the past. You might want to take a look in our library at:
“Keeping the College Application Process Sane.”
“The Summer Before College.”
“Are You Ready for College?”

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