09/18/2015 08:10 EDT | Updated 09/18/2016 05:12 EDT

Whose Future Is it Anyway - Parents or Students?

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USA, New Jersey, Jersey City, Father helping teenage son (16-17) packing to college

When I look back at the decision making process for my Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree, my parents were very involved. They reviewed my application essays and attended my university orientation. However, like many parents, their information was out of date (they graduated over 25 years before me) and was limited to their fields of study. Looking back, I felt young at the time, I was not confident in my ability to make such a major life decision, and I trusted my parents to know what was best for me.

My experience is consistent with the latest findings from the 2015 RBC Student Finances Poll. Twenty-eight per cent of students say they chose their program to please their parents, while only 21 per cent of parents recognize that they influenced their children's choice.

Parents only want what is best for their children, and they play an influential role in their children's lives, including academics. From choosing a school to selecting a program, students often make decisions to gain approval from their parents -- especially when Mom or Dad is paying.

Whether their decisions are to satisfy their parents or not, students have more anxiety about their future than their parents may realize. In fact, 75 per cent of students are concerned that the program they chose won't help them land a job after graduation, and 55 per cent say once they graduate they will likely have to compromise their goals and take a job that helps them pay the bills, rather than one that is rewarding.

Money versus happiness

When it comes to being happy after graduation, students and their parents have a very different idea of what will achieve this goal. Most parents (67 per cent) believe that finding a meaningful and fulfilling job will make their child happy, compared to only 42 per cent of students.

From the students' perspective, they believe happiness will also come from making a lot of money (14 per cent students versus eight per cent parents), travelling (12 per cent versus four per cent), finding love (eight per cent versus two per cent) and paying off debt (six per cent versus two per cent).

Whether students are finishing high school, in first year post-secondary, or approaching graduation, they have goals in mind -- and so do their parents. Here are three tips for students to successfully achieve their goals for the future:

1. Be clear about your goals. Ask yourself why you are going to school and what do you want to achieve with your degree or diploma. Review your goals each year to ensure you are still on the same path, or determine if they have changed.

2. Keep the lines of communication open. Parents and students need to discuss the future and the realities of making a living to set reasonable expectations. Discuss your interests and abilities, as well as job market trends, types of jobs and salaries. Continue communicating throughout the school year to help avoid difficult situations (and possible resentment) down the road.

3. Talk to the experts. Speak to people you know in the jobs and industries that interest you. Ask about their career and school experiences to learn first-hand about the pros and cons of various jobs. Look out for university and career fairs such as the upcoming Ontario University Fair in Toronto, and Canada Job Expo, Career Fair Canada and Hire Canada for events in your city.

Most parents encourage their kids to have the life we believe will be best for them. For me, it will be quite a while before my six-year-old son has to make these decisions. But I will keep these tips in mind to ensure that we are on the same page when it comes to a career based on his talents that will make him happy and be financially rewarding.

If you're a student, how much influence did your parents have on selecting your post-secondary program? Share your comments below or on Twitter: @RBC_Canada #studentsgetmore


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