Independent and college students

Today in many countries, there is an issue of high unemployment among College graduates. Without a job means their family has to continue to support them for many years after their graduation. A few weeks ago, an Economics professor in the UK explained this situation as the lack of understanding about the law of supply and demand. He told the newspapers that since most students do not read much about economics and the job market but only pay attention to what they are interested in. The result is what they study may not be what the market needs. He concluded that students need to read more about the changes in the job market as there are a few high demand fields that promise good jobs but many fields that are already saturated with no opportunity.

After reading the article, I think his conclusion is too simple to explain a complex social and cultural issue. Of course, there are students who may not pay attention to the fields of study that have a high demand but that is a minority. From what I have observed, many students choose what to study based mostly on the influenced of their family. There is a difference between what the students’ study to become self-sufficient and what they study based on the expectation of their parents. I often ask my students about why they are selecting Computer Science but not something else? There is only a small number say that they want to become independent and build their own career. A majority of students explain that they follow their parents’ advice and expectations since they rely mostly on their family for support.

In Asian countries, education is being valued highly but for different reasons. In some cases, sending children to college has an important social value. It is the pride of the family and the degree is considered something valuable for both the parents and children. The value of having a college degree is passed on from one generation to another as part of their culture. However, not many parents know that the job market has changed and the degree is no longer a guarantee for anything. But many parents continue to push their children to obtain a degree, any degree instead of encouraging them to develop the skills that are needed in this fast-changing market. A mother once told me: “I want my son to be a Medical Doctor or at least a Pharmacist.” I asked her: “Is that what he wants? She said: “It does not matter what he wants, it is what our family’s expectations and being my son, he will have to do that.” l explained: “A lot of people want to be medical doctors but only a few would meet the qualifications but there are other alternatives that he may consider.” She did not even consider that because being a Medical Doctor is the most prestigious career in her mind.

The issue is many students also do not think much about having a career and becoming independent as they have been taking care of by their parents for many years. When I asked some students about their future career, many explained that they want to get a degree, get a job and having a family. The typical answer was: “I would like to graduate and get a job. But I do not know what kind of job I will have … or what I actually want to do … I do not even think about it. Maybe my parents will help.” Of course, most parents want to help their children but their ability varies. Some can afford to provide them with many things but many may not so they have difficulty when their children are still depending on them, even after graduation. Some students told me that their parents advised them to get a degree first then think about others later.

From what I have observed, being independent is still an issue with many students. A student told me” “I do not need to think much about the future because my parents will take care of me.” I asked him: “You will graduate soon and being an adult, how can you still believe that your parents will do everything for you? He answered: “My parents do that because they have saved money for my future for a long time.” I asked: “Maybe your parents can help you with certain things such as support your education but as an adult would you consider to be on your own and someday you may take care of them? He said: “Of course, that is our culture.” I asked: “But what will happen if you cannot even taking care of yourself then how can you take care of them? He hesitated: “I do not even think about that.” I asked: “If you do not think about it now, when will you?”

I told my students: “As college students, you must think about your career and being able to take care of your own needs and assume responsibility for your decisions while considering the people around you and your family. That means you need to prepare to do things without having to wait for support from someone else. You need to focus on being independent to do things that you want and be responsible for your own actions, rather than what you are expected to. You must think seriously about being able to take care of yourselves, and reduces the dependence on your parents. You must think about your own career that you control your income and expenditure. The more that you learn to become financially independent, the less stress you may have in your life as you are more in control of your own. Everything begins with your career plan and what you want to do with your future and your lives and if you do not even plan it now, you will go through college and later in your entire lives without a direction.”


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University
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