dontaskaboutmajorBRIGHTA few years out of a school and newly married, David and I headed back to South Mountain for the annual Lehigh-Lafayette Football Game (in this century this tradition is known as LeLaf). Following the game we went to a cocktail reception at Theta Chi, and the brick exterior, white columns, and pungent odor of beer long-seeped into the parquet floors greeted us — almost as if we had never left. As the crowd gathered and the volume rose a couple of drinks in, I overheard a question posed by one of my husband’s pledge class brothers.

“So what number did you end up with last year, you know, as your net income on your tax return?”

I turned and caught David’s eye. His look confirmed that yes, indeed, I had heard the question correctly. David laughed, tossed back the rest of his beer, and never honestly considered answering the question—it was absurd.

That’s the thing with questions, absurd and otherwise, they are powerful, and as with anything fortified with muscle, they need to be leveraged and launched with intent.

During the latter part of high school, you and your teen will hear the following questions repeatedly:

Where do you want to go to college?

What do you want to do?

What are you planning to major in?

The above certainly do not embody the audacity that the net income query did, but for those still trying to figure out whom to ask to the prom or why their hysterical Instagram post of Horatio meowing from the roof is hovering at a measly 24 likes, it triggers the stress hormone cortisol with clockwork precision.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 80 percent of undergrads will change their majors and that only 27 percent of college graduates are employed in congruence with their major.

There are better questions to ask, if you are really interested in learning what a young adult is interested in. And isn’t that the point, to hone in on a student’s authentic interests, ones that they are naturally attracted to pursuing? Let’s go way out on a limb — where the passion and pursuit of interests aligns with what they want to study. Try the following and then listen; you will be rewarded with something you may not have known. And the teen will be equally rewarded by feeling heard.

I love College Essay Guy’s website. One of Ethan Sawyer’s pages is 100 Brave and Interesting Questions. Question 19: What activity do you do that makes you feel most like you? Question 43: What is your actual superpower? There are 98 others. Toss one out at the dinner table and see what happens.

Want a more “in the box” variety? Here are three:

What project did you enjoy most over the last few years?

What is the best book you read recently?

What problem would you like to see solved in our community?

And when you run into a teen you know and the subject of college comes up, dare to ask a question that gets to the core of what makes that student tick. Chances are you will get a better idea of what they will actually end up studying—and eventually doing. (Oh, and if they know where they are going to college and what they want to study—they’ll tell you… all on their own.)

  1. Reports that 80 percent of undergrads https://nces.ed.gov/
  2. I love College Essay Guy’s website Sawyer, Ethan. “100 Brave and Interesting Questions.” RSS. The College Essay Guy, n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.