During a college trip to Bradley University in Peoria, her mom "made" her look at the nursing school, where a tour guide rattled off a barrage of statistics, including that the median salary for a nurse is $60,000 and unemployment rate is 2 percent.
Lincoln remembers begrudgingly thinking to herself: "Maybe my mother is right."
Now, the 24-year-old is hitting her stride -- along with certain traditional markers of adulthood that have eluded many of her peers: She's engaged, has a 401(k) and health insurance. This summer, she's been busy house-hunting, a task made easier with her four-day weekends. (She works three 12-hour days a week.)
"My friends are so jealous," she said.
When it comes to post-college employment potential, majors matter. Of the top 10 occupations for hiring, half are engineering-related, according to the U.S. Labor Department. For every art history, psychology and sociology major tending bar or painting houses, there's another in astrophysics, pharmacology and actuarial science being hotly recruited.
Institutions are responding to the market by tweaking admissions materials, emphasizing not just new dorms and football Saturdays, but their internships, graduate school partnerships, well-connected alumni and newly expanded curricula with an eye to the real world.
Augustana College in Rock Island, for example, has recently added international business, graphic design and pre-engineering. Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, has beefed up its nursing school by working with the Mayo Clinic.
W. Kent Barnds, a vice president at Augustana College, concedes that it's getting tougher to make the sale. "It used to be that parents would take your word for it when you talked about a liberal arts education as fostering success in work and in life," he said. "Now, they want evidence."
That's just the kind of pragmatic talk Tom Thill wants to hear. The father of a senior at Marmion Academy in Aurora, Thill sees a college admissions process that has been hijacked by our culture's hyper-competitive influences.
He welcomes the course correction and is open to all options -- including having his son stay in state or start at nearby Waubonsee Community College -- not the usual ticket for a high-achiever at a private high school.
"There are a lot of routes to get to where you want to go," said Thill, 49, adding that he did "just fine" with his degree from Northern Illinois University. "So many kids today don't have any idea of what they want to do ... and no one can afford to throw out money anymore."
Sheryl Solomon, a mother of two from Wilmette, sees an increasing number of neighbors steering their kids into fields where employment remains strong. When her son, a 2011 graduate of New Trier High School, wanted to study jazz vocals at the University of Miami, she also worried about his ability to earn a living, but still supported his choice.
"We decided that a lot of people would be telling him 'no' ... and we didn't want to be among them," she said.
On his own, though, he realized that performing would be a tough road. So, when he returns to campus later this week, it will be with a new major: Music business. "I'm just glad he'll have more opportunities," she said.
Those are the kind of teachable moments cheered by Cliff Saper, a clinical psychologist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in Hoffman Estates. Saper works with many teens who are angry, sad or apathetic about parental demands on their future choices. He is not an advocate of parents taking too strong a hand in choosing their child's major or career path.
"It usually backfires. ... More often than not, kids will do the exact opposite," Saper said.
Instead of forcing an artsy kid into finance, parents should use this transition to guide good decision-making, he said. They should be feeding information, sifting through the pros and cons and above all, keeping the lines of communication open.
"Where you want to be very clear is on parameters: 'Here's what we can afford. If you want to go to a more expensive school, we can do two years, but the next two years are on you,'" Saper said. "But I see kids still applying to 14 or 15 very competitive schools parents can't afford ... and everyone ending up frustrated."
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