Career Advice for Liberal Arts Parents | Curran Career Consulting

Career Advice for Liberal Arts Parents

Over a million and a half students will become college students for the first time this fall. According to studies conducted by the educational consulting firm, Eduventures, two thirds of these students will have chosen their selected college in large part based on the assumption that it will prepare them well for a career. But within minutes of setting foot on campus, all thoughts of the future will be obliterated by more mundane problems, such as negotiating with roommates about where to put the refrigerator, or finding the best Thai food. And once school actually starts, thoughts of career recede even further.

Parents go through their own form of denial about their children’s futures. The logic of choice: it’s good that the economy is bad now, because my son has four years for it to get better. Many parents also erroneously assume that if their son or daughter goes to a good school and does well, they will automatically receive a top job after graduation. (Based on the recent lawsuit filed by an unemployed graduate against her alma mater, some students labor under a similar misunderstanding.)

After working with thousands of parents at Duke University and Brown University, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten things that every parent of a liberal arts student needs to know about education and career.

1) Your sons and daughters will probably change their minds about their major at least once, and probably multiple times. That’s normal.
2) Not surprisingly, most students change their minds about their expected careers, too.
3) Students do not need to immediately put themselves into a pre-med or pre-law “box”. There are no pre-requisites for law school, and students are increasingly taking a full four years to complete medical school requirements.
4) It is now almost the norm to work for a year or two before going to grad school, law school or medical school. And, most top MBA programs only accept students with significant experience.
5) The subject matter of the major may not have anything in common with a student’s career aspiration. If it doesn’t, your son or daughter will need to supplement the major with relevant experiences outside the classroom
6) Internships are now a pre-requisite for success in finding a good position. Students who are most in demand by employers have often had two or three internships before graduation, and have built work skills and knowledge throughout their time in college.
7) College provides numerous opportunities outside of the classroom to build skills that employers covet. Club leadership, membership on an athletic team, and study abroad can all round out the resume. The key is to use these experiences to demonstrate commitment, skills development and learning.
8) Students who build strong relationships with grown-ups—faculty, administrators, alumni and other parents—will be way ahead in the career game. Connections count.
9) Your son or daughter should not wait until senior year to start exploring careers, examining options, building skills and developing application materials. An ideal time for the first visit to the careers office is early sophomore year.
10) Today’s students use their parents as a primary source of advice on careers. You will be doing your son or daughter a huge favor by encouraging exploration and experience, while letting them do the work!


  1. Sheila,

    This is excellent advice. As you know, I also spent the better part of a decade working directly with students on campus in Career Services.

    After working with hundreds of students, I think your point on the importance of building relationships with “grown-ups” on and off campus is especially important.
    Many students have a “blind spot” with regard to the need to develop relationships outside their peer group in college. The lack of support systems in these areas can make college more difficult to navigate as a whole and is especially challenging when recommendations are needed. Without guidance, students may not become aware of the need to develop these relationship until they apply for jobs and internships–or they are ready for graduate school. By then, they’ve already lost some headway.

    One of my perennial pieces of advice to students is to “shrink” the size of their campus by making one or two faculty or staff friends every semester who will take an active interest in their progress. The bonus: Students who do this will have a stronger source of support when it comes time to make tough decisions, navigate course scheduling, and ask for recommendations.

    Again, many thanks for this great piece.

    All the Best,

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