Parents FAQ: Introduction »

Parents FAQ: How Can Parents Help

How Can I Help My Child Make the Most of Penn and Get a Good Start on Life After Penn?

For many young men and women, college offers a chance to try out new roles, to take more control over their lives and decisions, and to assert their independence. While some parents are excited by their childrens’ new-found sense of confidence, others find this stressful, as they may feel that their influence is waning. However, as we know from countless career advising sessions, your opinion and approval matter tremendously. Our research has shown that parents, not faculty members or peers, have the primary influence on students’ career choices. Even when students make decisions which they know will disappoint their parents, this often causes them some conflict and pain. Conversely, some students try to make decisions pleasing to their parents (for example, emulating their parent’s career path), and then agonize over whether they are doing it to satisfy themselves or their parents.

The fact is you really can help your child adjust to Penn. Express confidence in his/her abilities and affirm her/his ability to make decisions. This can make a significant difference in how your young adult makes the transition to college, and then to life after Penn. Self-confidence is a fundamental asset in any field of endeavor, and one way we all develop it is by knowing that there’s someone important who believes in us.

Encourage your child to seek out and use a wide variety of resources to get the best information possible. While most students go to the Web to get information, information available through face-to-face interaction is still extremely important, and sometimes undervalued by students. The wide array of programs at Career Services, as well as our network of alumni/alumnae career advisors, makes it easy to get. In addition, by virtue of being at Penn, students have a myriad of wonderful resources to use. Faculty, house deans, advisors, and counselors in Career Services and other university departments are all available to help your child think through and understand the consequences of different choices. You may also have access to additional resources though your own personal and professional contacts. Ask your child how s/he might want to make use of those resources.

Finally, just as you may with your son or daughter, we often see students who are troubled by career questions, whether it’s a matter of second-guessing a decision, having difficulty finding a summer job, or being turned down by a first-choice graduate program. We often find that the best support to young people in these situations is to ask how we can help and then be guided by their answer.

What is “success”?

There is, of course, no one definition of success. The different individuals and cultures that populate Penn have varying views of “success,” and how it can be measured. At different stages of one’s life, views of what constitutes success may change, and we hope we’ve prepared students to cope with these changes that are inevitably part of their lives, and work.

In Career Services, we work with students and alumni/alumnae toward the following goals:

  • Broad exploration of various career options
  • Pursuing studies/work that use students’ greatest skills and talents
  • Finding work that is consonant with one’s values, such as long-term economic stability, intellectual challenge, professional prestige, working toward a sustainable environment, and/or balancing family and work.

It may also happen that, while at Penn, your child — perhaps for the first time in his or her life — encounters obstacles that affect his or her academic performance. Pressures resulting from being away from home, managing time, intense competition, and having “too many choices” may cause some students to perform below their usual standards. Penn offers many support services to help students with such difficulties. Departments such as Academic Support Services and Tutoring, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), Communication within the Curriculum and the Office of English Language Programs can all be helpful.

Sometimes “failures” lead to unexpectedly successful outcomes. Changing from a major in which a student is doing poorly to another field of study in which he or she excels can open many doors. Taking a job which one is not sure about can help a student uncover hidden talents and enthusiasms that ultimately lead to outstanding professional and personal achievement and satisfaction.

Is there a Year-by-Year Timeline for Using Career Services?

There are no “fixed” roadmaps that apply to each and every student, and Career Services has no formal structures in place that students have to follow in order to use the office. Some students are very driven and focused, and use our services almost as soon as they arrive at Penn; others don’t come to the office until second semester of their senior year. While we’re happy to help students whenever they get to us, we do offer  year-by-year career planning timeline for students