Advice to First Year Parents

by Kathleen Powell, Director of Career Exploration & Development

By now your sons and daughters are back at college to finish out their first year. During the break you may have heard about their classes, their professors, their clubs and organizations and their dreams for the summer or life after college! For some students, they have no idea what’s out there or what they could pursue after graduation. Others are very firm in their path, some focusing on what they believe they know or have seen; perhaps the pre-law or pre-health tracks. However, if you would ask your son or daughter to detail why they are interested in a particular career field or even more pointedly, why it would be a good fit for them, they might be hard pressed to verbalize an answer.

How do we lift our college students up with career development in mind? What are the steps these students might take to find meaningful work and career success? As the Director of Career Exploration and Development, and a parent, I’ve provided a few resources to assist you in working with your own college student.

Now is a great time for career exploration and focus. Denison offers students, free of charge, an interactive career development software tool called Focus to help them determine their values, interests, and skills.

We also encourage first year students to use the spring semester to investigate internships. We believe internships are a great way to test out a career, gain skills and add value to an organization. One of the many things I value about Denison is the opportunity for first year students to apply for internships through DIP, the Denison Internship Program.

With a good deal of reflection, self-assessment and career exploration, students determine possible career paths that are good matches for their interests and skills.

The next time you speak with your college student, I encourage you to ask them about their summer plans and what resources they are using. If they don’t mention Career Exploration and Development, make a point to send them in our direction. Your support of their career goals resonates more than you might think. Many students look to their parents for career guidance and together, success is sure to follow.

Be Patient! Try and think back to your first year of college or your first time of trying out something new. Understand that college students may change their minds several times in the process about what they might major in, do between summers or after graduation. It’s always good form to give your input while understanding they must figure out their journey themselves to learn. According to the ACT, 16% of college freshmen believe they will change their major. Actually, 65-86% of freshmen actually do change their major and nationally, half of all freshmen with a declared major will change their major at least once before they graduate.

How do you start the conversation around careers, summers, skills and life after college? I’ve shared a few starters with you. It is my hope that if you ask these questions, the conversation will take off. The good news for you, there are no right or wrong answers. A listening ear is all that is required.

• What clubs or organizations have you thought about joining or have joined? What about that organization interests you? What do you think you’ll get out of that involvement? What do you think you’ll add to that club or organization?
If we can get our college student to think beyond just joining an organization, but to think in terms of skills gained, skills provided, imagine how easy it will be for them to articulate their skills and value to an employer or graduate/professional school. The idea here is to have students think intentionally. It’s not about the number of clubs or organizations they join, but about depth and breadth. Less is more and developing leadership and communication skills will go a long way!

• What classes are you doing well in?
Most students do well in classes they like and that provide a manageable challenge. At the end of the day, employers and graduate schools are looking for students who are strong academically. In general, a 3.0 overall G.P.A. will move a student to the “in” consideration. Now, if your son or daughter did not hit this mark after one semester, it is not time to panic. I share this as a point of reference. Still, it’s never too early for students to think about academics.

• What are your summer plans? Have you thought about a summer job or internship?
If they have thought about either a summer job or internship, make sure to ask them to think about putting together a resume. Career Exploration and Development has many resources to assist them in completing a resume and help in finding a summer opportunity or internship. The more your son or daughter uses Career Exploration and Development, the more likely they are to find a rewarding opportunity, not only during their time in college, but after. In fact, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, students who used the career center four or more times a semester were more likely to have job offers than those who used it once a semester.

• What careers have you thought about? Do you know where you could go to find out more information?
Don’t be surprised if your son or daughter hasn’t thought about a career or has no idea where to go. People get to their careers by different routes. For first year students, we encourage them to use free resources available through Career Exploration and Development. And, we strongly encourage students to leverage the networking opportunities such as Big Red Roadtrips, First Look Denison and DenisonEverywhere. Your son or daughter receives communication from our office two times per week. We’d be happy to send it to you too! It’s a wonderful way to find out about programs and events taking place within Career Exploration and Development.
Whether this is your first child in college or your third, starting early is key. Four years goes by quickly and having your son or daughter on the right path will only enhance their educational experience. Take it from someone who changed her major a lot, there is light at the end of the tunnel!