Helpful questions for the college graduate (Parent Edition)


Congratulations! What are your plans? This might sound like a supportive question for your graduating senior, but it really isn't, particularly if the graduate turned in a major project on Friday, graduates today, moves out of his apartment tomorrow, and is saying goodbye to many close friends. Wait until the confetti lands and then ask these empowering questions instead.

  • What are your plans next week? A lot of parents really want to know, "When are you going to get a job?" Chances are, your graduate is more stressed out about this than you are, even if he doesn't show it. Like any challenge, it helps everyone to break down the task into manageable next action steps. Asking about plans for next week or next month helps to make the task attainable and gives parents the information that they need to know in order to be helpful. Many graduates have plans, but they might be relatively unformed. Listening to the plans, asking supportive questions, and allowing the graduate to brainstorm with you will keep them coming back to you.
  • How can we best support you during this transition from college to work? The path from life as a full-time student to life as a full-time professional is more complex than it might seem. All graduates hope to find the ideal job in the perfect field of interest. They also hope that they will love what they do right out of the gate. But most of us can remember feeling unsure about whether interesting coursework in a major will translate to meaningful work. The job market for graduates has never been better. In fact, 99.4% of 2017 graduates from Calvin College were employed or in graduate school six months after graduation, but even in this job market it can take a little time. The transition might require time in a short-term job, a little support with rent and other expenses, some coaching, and a lot of encouragement. Some parents think of themselves as managers. If they have made it through college successfully then it is long past time to shift the metaphor. Instead, think of yourself as an investor in a startup you believe in. Like any startup it will take resources and advice. For most people the first few job applications may not pan out, and this can be disheartening. Reminding your grad that you believe in her gifts will provide a real boost in the midst of uncertainty and the instability of this transition.
  • What do people tell you that you are good at? I ask this question of a lot of students and it often takes them by surprise. As they stammer a bit I follow up with, "what do your (professors, supervisor, mentors, or friends) tell you about your strengths?" This allows students to answer and report what others have said about them, so they are not bragging, just reporting the facts about what they have been told. As students answer this question they usually start to smile and I can see the confidence build as we start to talk about these strengths. The ability to tell others about our strengths is an important part of the job search process. Helping the graduate to remember these strengths as he wades through the applications and interviews will be an encouragement at just the right time.

As a parent of three children who are now all in their twenties I am starting to realize that I will probably never stop worrying about them. I want them to be well, contributing to society, and to be able to take care of themselves. They do all of these things so well, but I still worry. My worries are really my problem, not theirs. I am reminded each day that they are all responsible adults. I want to continue to be a trusted source of support when they need advice and guidance, or have had a bad day. I am sure you do too. Asking empowering questions, rather than expressing my worries, helps them to stay focused on taking the next steps on life's journey with confidence.

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