COVID-19 has changed so much for everyone—from how we work, play, and learn to how we celebrate holidays and mourn deaths. For rising college students, or those already in college, the global pandemic has introduced a sharp awareness of life’s fragility. College life itself has changed, with many students attending school from home, virtually; meanwhile on campuses, parties, social gatherings, in-person classes, and clubs are limited.
You already know how the pandemic affects your student now. But what sort of effect is it having on their career goals? Here’s what education specialists and researchers see emerging:
Some Things Stay the Same: Your Student May Not Know Their Career Goals Well Enough to Change Them and That’s Okay.
When asked on Road2College’s private Facebook group, Paying for College 101, whether or not COVID-19 has changed their students’ intended career path, a percentage of parents just said “no.” More than one suggested that “ignorance is bliss” and that their kid simply doesn’t think that far ahead. Some reported their children were taking gap years due to COVID-19 and virtual learning—not so much changing their college and career plans, as delaying them. One parent suggested college is still the one time in life when it’s okay to live in the moment.
If your student’s career vision seems too short-range to factor in something as far-reaching as the effects of a pandemic, rest assured, they are well in the mix. College admissions expert Dave Berry reports that one in five students start college not knowing their major, never mind where they will be career-wise in the next ten years.
Beyond a doubt, COVID-19 has dramatically changed the employment landscape, slashing job hours in certain fields, creating exhausting work hours for frontline workers, and forcing others to work entirely virtually.
Nevertheless researchers of disruptive events that affect working life called “career shock” suggest that the same context affects an individual’s psychology differently—and the effect changes at different stages of development.
While your neighbor’s child has already changed their major from English literature to public health (more on scenarios like this coming up), your own child may have declared no plans beyond watching today’s TikTok videos and attending virtual classes.
Today’s seemingly go-with-the-flow, or even passive student may well be taking in information and responding to this historical moment in ways that will show up in career decisions—potentially wise ones—down the road.
Sometimes all a parent can do is stay tuned.
Where it Stands Now: Changing Majors and Plans
The Future May Look Brighter for Some Career Choices Than Others
If we learned anything in 2020, it is how little we can predict the long-term future, or even the upcoming months. Students do know what they see, however, and looking around them in 2021, they are bound to notice certain employment fields have nearly dried up—at least temporarily.
In the same pragmatic vein, some students simply can’t afford to plan long term right now.
Reports Mateo Garces-Jiminez, himself a college student writing for CNBC’s “College Voices 2020,” an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent for young people ages 16 to 24 means some recent grads may have to take what jobs they can get and reevaluate the big picture next year.
Fields Looking Uncertain
For students currently choosing their majors, or plotting a job path for a few years out, careers in travel, customer service, or restaurant management are most likely not calling their names.
One parent in the Paying for College 101 group mentioned a relative who recently graduated with a degree in Chinese and international business; her job disappeared the minute the first COVID-19 cases were announced, and she’s currently working at a Target store while considering next steps.
Another parent of a rising college student said her child would keep her double major in theater and science, but would forego applying to specialized theater schools in order to focus on academics in practical subjects like public health.
Laura Vasco, a rising senior at Montclair State University, told CNBC’s “College Voices” that because of COVID-19 she has decided to start her own business instead of work for a private equity firm.
Selling sustainable yoga mats wasn’t her initial dream, but, in her current opinion, it beats having to depend on an uncertain economy turning around.
While the perceived scarcity of jobs in certain fields drives some students to change their career goals, the promise of new employment opportunities in other fields may be positively motivating others.
Increasingly Popular Majors and Career Paths
Road2College cites Jeff Schiffman, director of admissions at Tulane University, who believes that students affected by living with the pandemic may be drawn to careers in public health.
They want to know how the pandemic took hold, how it spread through populations, and what can be done to prevent future outbreaks. Choosing a major or a profession in public health may be a way of taking some control in a chaotic situation because the student might imagine working with others to find a solution to the problems of today.
Insights.CollegeConfidential.com and Road2College suggest that some college disciplines are trending in response to the pandemic. In addition to public health, these include nursing, nursing administration, medicine, emergency medical services, nursing home administration, military affairs, food service administration, and animal care management.
Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors also appear to be trending, which isn’t surprising since these fields (as opposed to the humanities) tend to be bigger draws in times of economic instability.
TechRepublic reports that 30 percent of college grads will change career paths due to COVID-19.
Students Not Dreaming Smaller Than They Did Pre-Pandemic, Just Differently
And in Some Cases with a Social Justice Bent
Garces-Jiminez says the college students he interviewed were rethinking their “dream jobs” because of COVID-19. In some cases, their goals became less self-centered or grandiose, more focused on global reality.
Living through the pandemic has made Gen Z students see how their lives connect with other lives. They are looking for careers that allow them to address rising social needs of others, not just themselves.
Such is the case for Jackson England, 20, one of Garces-Jiminez’s interviewees. England felt drawn to become involved in social justice work because of the tensions and needs the pandemic has highlighted.
Believing change starts with education, he has decided to pursue educational policy as advocacy along with getting a law degree.
Advise Your Student Not to Make Changes in Majors or Careers in a Vacuum
Those in the Know Say Ask for Help
Road2College highlights Schiffman’s advice to students to keep a journal while reflecting on changes they might like to make to their major or career path. Students can track their key emotions and thoughts on what they have to offer the world.
Garces-Jiminez features the advice of Johayra Diaz, an academic advisor at Montclair State University. She recommends students not rush to change majors or careers, particularly if they can’t afford to work for pennies at an internship first.
She reminds students that knowledge is power, telling them to arm themselves for smart change by doing the following:
- Consult with academic advisors
- Contact professionals on LinkedIn
- Investigate the facts. What does the job pay? How open of a field is it?
No one knows exactly what the next ten years or even the next two will look like in the wake of COVID-19.
Perhaps the best skills your child can learn are accepting reality, staying aware of possibilities, and being ready to make a change when change is necessary.
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