Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Should I let my daughter leave university to become a hairdresser?

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Dear Virginia, I'm a single parent and have worked hard to give my daughter a better start in life than the one I had – at one point, I was taken into care. So when she got a place at university, I was so happy for her. But now she's come home for the summer holiday and doesn't want to go back. She says she's not learning anything and wants to earn money and be a hairdresser. I know I must let her do what she wants, but am disappointed and feel she's making the wrong decision. How can I persuade her to think again? Yours sincerely, Veronique

Does every mother, not just Jewish ones, long to be able to say: "My daughter, the doctor?" or "My son, the lawyer?" Sometimes I think all mums are in a frenzy of wishing their children would win Olympic golds, the Nobel Prize, get ahead, get ahead, get ahead. I mean, it's not just people who've had wretched backgrounds or people who, like you, Veronique, have spent part of their childhoods in care who worry like this. I bet even the Queen sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night thinking: "Oh, Lord, I know Charles is going to be King one day, but if only he could be genius at something!"

Of course, we all produce the droning, clichéd mantra, "I don't care what he does as long as he's happy" – but underneath, most of us wish our children would be happy and a brilliant concert pianist/playwright/scientist or whatever, at the same time.

Faced with your daughter's current views, you're torn between the "happy" mantra and the hidden longing for "my daughter, the doctor".

You've got to ask yourself first whether the university course is going to be of any use to her at all in later life. If she's training to be something specific, such as a marine biologist or a lawyer, then clearly it might well be worth saying to her: "Look, just give the second year a chance. After that, I'll back you to the hilt in becoming a hairdresser." But second years can be very different to first years. Presumably she'll be living out of halls, which will mean she will have a totally different social life and so on. It might also be worth suggesting she contact her tutor to discuss moving from the course she's on to another one she'd find more interesting.

However, if she's doing a course that will be of no use to her, then you should, actually, be delighted she's decided to drop out and do something "real". Whether the best choice is hairdressing is another matter, but given the alternative of a degree that will be worthless when she leaves, it's certainly more sensible for her to do something practical and hands-on.

So, then you ask: has she always been drawn to hairdressing? The job is pretty badly paid and a thankless task unless you're driven to be a success. It might be worth, if you are obliged to accept the dropping-out part of her plan, insisting that she look at career options other than hairdressing.

A visit to an educational psychologist or careers adviser will also yield a list of possible choices.

Readers say

Get to the root of the problem

The first thing to do is to establish the real reason your daughter wants to leave university. "I'm not learning anything" covers a multitude of sins. It may be that your daughter is unhappy because she hasn't got any friends. The reason could be that she has to move off campus for her second year, hasn't arranged anything and does not know what to do. On the other hand, she may feel she has been treated unfairly by lecturers.

If she really believes she is not learning anything, it could be because she is very bright and finding it too easy. Finally, the problem could be that she is taking the wrong course and should switch. I would advise your daughter that hairdressing does not provide any long-term future, unless she wants to open her own salon – in which case, she should take a degree course that offers modules including accountancy, entrepreneurship, human resource management and marketing.

Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey

She may be right

Your daughter should realise she will never earn a great deal in hairdressing, despite it being one of the UK's few growth industries, and training to do it is not effortless. That said, it is far from clear that she's making the wrong decision. So many people go to university now that it is no longer a great advantage. A second-class degree is hardly worth the paper it's written on, and if she thinks she's not learning anything and doesn't like it, it's unlikely she will have anything better than that to show for her years – plus, presumably, a pile of debt. Unless she is very academic, it's better to cut her losses now.

Rupert Fast, Esher, S urrey

Let her decide

Our daughter came home from university after two terms saying she was not returning. She said she had chosen the wrong place and subject. She had taken and passed her first-year exams. We were upset – what parents wouldn't be?

We did not consider trying to persuade her to return. She was an adult and we believed she should make her own decisions. She soon found a temporary job. This was later followed by another job that offered training for a City and Guilds qualification. After obtaining the qualification, she found a job which really attracted her. She got it, and after day release to a university course she obtained a BSc in her chosen area.

This is not the end of everything for your daughter. It is better to stop now than to carry on with a course she is unhappy with.

Margaret Johnson, South Kirby, West Yorkshire

Support her

As a parent, I can see your point of view, but as a former uni dropout, I can also see your daughter's point of view. My parents are still happily married and my upbringing was largely comfortable, but at 19 I dropped out of a law degree in my first year, much to my dad's dismay. I wanted to train as a nurse instead and did, successfully, but left a couple of years after qualifying as I realised it wasn't for me. I went back to studying at 24 and completed a Masters degree from an excellent uni at 28. Ten years on, I have a career I enjoy, and I'm happily married and expecting my third child. I wouldn't change any of my choices as each one has taught me valuable lessons and helped me to get where I am today. My parents have always been there to support me, which is the best you can do for your children.

Bek Cruddace, Basingstoke, Hampshire

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