Should Mom and Dad choose your major?

If your parents are footing the bill, they can decline to pay for certain courses of study. And no, they're not trying to crush your dreams.

By Donna_Freedman Aug 1, 2013 9:44AM

Logo: High school graduate ( personal finance blogger named Evan started a lively conversation after tweeting a photo of his toddler son playing with a camera and the caption, "Already told the boy no chance I am paying for a photography degree."

He expanded on his position through a post on his site, My Journey to Millions. "I think the more money you as a parent are on the hook for the more say you should have in your child's degree the more say you should have in your child's degree," Evan wrote.


"If I am paying for my son's degree I will be damned if he ends up with an art history or creative writing degree at a private university. If the world stays the same then there is just no justification for a $200,000+ degree for the ability . . . to make $40,000 per year."

Do your parents really have the right to choose your major? Sort of. They can't force you to go to law school or to get a master's in petroleum engineering.

If they're footing the bill, however, they have the right to veto your plans to major in Sanskrit or philosophy. As with governmental vetoes, it's important to (a) exercise that power wisely and (b) remember that compromise is preferable to a power play. (More on that below.)

It's not that Mom and Dad have no faith in your vision of headlining on Broadway or writing the Great American Novel. What's more likely is that they want you to survive.

College isn't only about how much money you can make when you're finished. But you need to take a very focused look at how you'll support yourself after you've tossed your mortarboard in the air.

"I think parents should require that their children think about their job life after college and find out what major will get them to that," author Susan Ende told The Washington Post.

Classes that lead somewhere
Ende, who co-wrote "How to Raise Your Adult Children," noted that the teen who chooses "the easy major or just what he likes" is making a second, de facto choice: "to become one of the college graduate drifters who drift back home and often take a long time to find their way back into the adult world again."

The takeaway? Have a clear idea of how a master's in women's studies or a PhD in rhetoric will translate to the working world. This is where the parental veto comes in: They get to say what kinds of education they will pay for and what kinds they won't.

Do they have the right to crush your dream? You bet, if they're buying.

Parents: This kind of conversation needs to take place early and often. I'd start as soon as middle school and repeat it every year: I cannot in good conscience pay for you to spend four (or more) years taking whatever class strikes your fancy, only to graduate unable to get a job.

Students: You have rights, too; specifically, the right to say, "OK, then, I'll pay for my own education." However, you still need that clear idea of where what you love (or think you love) can take you.

Don't take out $100k in student loans and graduate with a bachelor's in interpretive dance. There aren't many teaching positions for that, and the loans will come due whether or not you find gainful employment.

As MSN Money columnist Liz Weston notes, college is "the ticket to the middle class." But while some people can parlay a photography degree into a decent job upon graduation, it's safe to say most people can't.

Make your dreams practical ones

Keep your eyes on your dream, but be practical as well. A stage-struck young relative is double-majoring: theater and performing arts management. The second degree is heavy on business, so I expect it's transferable even to a non-arts management setting.

Another young man I know got that philosophy degree, and spent several years drifting from job to job, writing a sports-related blog and generally enjoying life. But he wanted a family, so shortly after marrying he enrolled in an intensive two-year program and got a master's degree in teaching.

Follow your dream, but also follow the money -- as in, "How am I going to pay the bills after graduation?" You probably don't want to live with your parents forever. Believe me, that's probably not what they want, either.

Do/did you place restrictions on your child's college degree?

More from MSN Money


Aug 1, 2013 3:22PM
Instead of asking my kids what they want to do when they grow up, or what they want to be, I ask them how they intend to support themselves.  If you don't go to college with that as your end goal, you are wasting 4 years of your life.  Most people don't do what they "love" for a living.  That's what hobbies are for.  If you work hard and choose a career that pays well enough, you will have plenty of time and money to pursue those loves.  If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Aug 1, 2013 2:29PM

I have an English Degree because I didn't want to major in something I didn't enjoy for 4 years.


Now I have had  jobs for the last 20 years that I don't have any real interest in, because I graduated with no career plan. And no money to go along with it.


Had I majored in Buisness or Engineering I may still not have a job that I had a strong interest in, but at least I'd be making a better living.


Kids - you're better off being bored and rich than bored and poor. Skip the philosophy degree.

Aug 1, 2013 4:58PM

The world has changed, for the worse.  Was a time where college was a way to get an education in areas of interest, money wasn't everything, personal fulfillment and contribution to society in itself meant something.   These days, it's all about a salary and what you are worth to the wheels of progress and some corporation's bottom line.


If the the humanities and the arts mean nothing, we have lost a very important part of being human.

Aug 1, 2013 11:36AM
If, by the time your child reaches college age, he or she doesn't understand that the university is both a place to enrich his intellectual life and also to learn to do something for which he will be paid, then you've failed as a parent. Those two goals of a college education are in no way mutually exclusive. The ability to earn a good living will also free him to pursue other interests in life, interests that might not be open to him had he not had the financial means to do so.
Aug 1, 2013 10:45AM
The problem with this line of thinking is they may be forcing their children into areas of study in which their child has no interest or talent and will thereby be unable to hold down a job in the field.  One cannot go into a major simply for the money it will pay later.  That is ridiculous.
Aug 2, 2013 10:47PM
I have a master's in art history and was steadily employed until taking early retirement.  I'm not rich but I am comfortable and did it by working in a field I love.  No, I didn't teach.  I worked for galleries and preservationists as well as consulting on archeological digs.  

If you love engineering, go for it. If something else, don't write off what you love because everyone says you will get a worthless degree.  Remember when everyone was going after an MBA?  And those folks helped create the economic mess we're in now.

Aug 1, 2013 2:48PM
We know Chris Hedges' famous words, that many have "bought into the idea that education is about training, and. . .[have forgotten] that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers."  Colleges are not employment factories--for gosh sakes--and employment factories are not colleges. We all deserve better. ~JD

Finally, an article on MSN I agree with. If a child wants to major in interpretative dance, or the history of basket weaving, fine. They can do it on their own dime. If they think I'm going to pay for it, well, think again!
Aug 5, 2013 11:40AM
When I was young, I went to college because I was supposed to.  I thought I had ideas on what I wanted to do, but now that I am older, I no longer care about those ideas.  The good thing is that i'm going back to school for what I really want.  Both times, I have paid my own way.  I do think it's unfair for parents to choose how kids will spend their adult lives.  Back off.
Aug 5, 2013 11:03AM

Parents and schools should be working together towards college,  I do not totally agree with parents should have full right to pick and choose what college courses their kids should take,  No sense telling lawyer, when child wants to be a teacher, no sense pushing teacher when the child is artistically inclined, no sense pushing colleges if boys want to be heavy duty mechanic, or girls want to be cookds, there is no college for being a parent, nor any training,,,  that comes with on the job learning, but there are course that can be taken, why push a chiold into doing something they will resent,,, I have heard Moms and Dads say, you will Thank me some day that I forced you to do my bidding only to see the the opposite reaction, 


So Tread lightty with the by " By God Im Paying for it, you'll do as I say. 

Aug 1, 2013 3:09PM

Taking into consideration that increases in tuition and fees have greatly exceeded the rate of inflation over the past few decades, college is no longer a "rite of passage" or an opportunity to "broaden one's horizons"--it truly becomes a question of economics.  The shame of it all is that my daughter can get an "award"--not a scholarship--from the University no matter how bad her grades are in her choice of major with no questions asked.  She will have to pay back the "award" later.


Colleges will grab your money as quickly as they can.  The student can choose any major they like.  Results aren't guaranteed.


Aug 5, 2013 2:10PM
Each parent should decide on their own if they should pay for their children's college or take out college loans in their names. My parents paid for mine and so I was inclined to pay for my daughter's so that they would not be burdened with student loans. One is taking business courses and the other nursing, and we are fine with that. College is an experience much greater than learning a vocation; it is learning how to get along with diverse peers, learning how to budget time and money, learning how to study effectively, learning how to prioritize. And most majors allow a certain number of electives where they can sample Art Appreciation, Music Appreciation, Philosophy, Anthropology, etc.
Aug 4, 2013 3:03PM
Our daughter went to a good state university that we paid for. The one thing we said was get good grades or we stop paying. She wanted to live off campus, so we gave her $400 / mo to live off of for every need. This was close to the cost of on campus housing. She shared with a friend and got her degree with honors. Then she went to work finding a university that paid her a stipend that paid her schooling needs, and we bought a small cond that we sold when she finished her Masters. So in essence the cost was nothing to us other then some possible lost investment income, which worked out as this is when the stock market tanked, so we might have saved some money on the deal. Now she has found a university that pays a stipend, enough for all needs but little else, for her PHD. She is a special person that has focused on getting her education and stayed away from parties and spent her social time with running groups and her quality time with her friends. What I'm trying to say is she enjoys herself, but doesn't need a bunch of money to do it. Still no gurantee of a job, but PHD's do have a good chance, better then going to parties and getting a BA in art.
Aug 1, 2013 2:18PM

Look--we need to distinguish here between a vocation and an avocation. Universities are set up to teach people avocations because they have whole departments devoted to that--and if they can't attract enough warm bodies, those departments have to shut down and tenured professors turned out. Do you really think those tenured professors won't do or say ANYTHING to keep their jobs? They will tell students they are the next Isadora Duncan to keep that job.


It is best for students who are not that attracted to things like freshman composition and introductory poli sci to go to a technology center to get a quick, inexpensive, and marketable certification. This is particularly true for students who want to study "interpretative dance."


The student first gets a certificate in IT, which will allow that person to get a $16 an hour IT job at the university, and then that student can study "interpretative dance" as an avocation.


We are NOT talking an either/or situation. One can get the marketable degree, get the job, and THEN study something: dance, philosophy, rhetoric. A university degree really can be for self-improvement--and they aren't that expensive if one lives near the university and has a full time job (especially if that full time job is at the university).


Because high school diplomas are basically worthless now--and because it was parents with their concern that little Johnny or Janie wasn't getting straight A's and getting promoted on schedule who did it--everyone needs some post-secondary education. But, there are many options--there are technology centers (which are woefully misunderstood--they are fabulous opportunities), community colleges, and nonprofit online universities like WGU. All are affordable. Once a student has marketable training, that student can continue to train in whatever field s/he likes--it can be for a vocation or for an avocation.


There is nothing wrong with an avocation--but few avocations make a person money. There is absolutely no reason why a person cannot study to be a CPA, work in that capacity, and also do other work (acting, dance, writing).


When did we lose this distinction between studying for a vocation and an avocation? People live to be nearly 80 years old now--study for a vocation in your teens and into your 20s. Study your avocation once you have a job. It's a simple principle.

Aug 5, 2013 12:25PM

People do need to earn a living, but they also need to be happy. People with full time employment spend over a third of their working life, between early twenties to mid sixties working. People spend just as many hours working as with their spouses. I think people should do what they are happy at doing and only they can truly judge that, not parents or anyone else. If a parent has concerns about their child getting a job after school then they should talk to their child. If a parent taught their child to decide for himself and be willing to take the consequences then the parent should have faith in their child and trust them. If a parent continuously makes decisions for their children, even as adults, then the child will never grow up and in some capacity will always be dependent on their parent.

Aug 5, 2013 8:32AM
If your child has to take a remedial course at a college or university, he or she has no business being in that college.  Not everyone has the intelligence to go to college.  The idea that every kid deserves a shot at college is ludicrous, no matter what the libs say.  Your kid is better off going to a technical school and learning a trade, especially air conditioning or plumbing in Texas.
Aug 5, 2013 12:55PM
I am helping my daughter pay back her student loans. Thankfully she chose Physical Therapy.
Aug 5, 2013 11:43AM

Is 6 1/2 years a long time to get a Bachelor's Degree in Business?

Does not having a job since 2008 because Mom & Dad pay all of your college expenses look bad when your are applying for internships?

Aug 5, 2013 10:16AM
I can tell you that I have counseled all my children on their major. In addition I gave strong advice. I have five children and all are employed. I will add that my two engineer sons make more than my graphic design son. Who is happier? Well my graphic design son lives in Hawaii but when he calls it is always about how hard life is living on 40k a year in Hawaii.
Aug 5, 2013 4:58PM
I raised my kids to be independent adults who can think for themselves. Now I need to trust that they are.
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