Dear Richard Madeley: Should we allow our daughter to change her degree – and suffer the financial cost?

'We'd love to say 'follow your dreams', but it seems the only young people who get to do that are backed up with more parental financial muscle'
'We can continue to support her as long as we're both working, but we were hoping to dial back our work commitments' - E+

Dear Richard,

Our daughter has come home from her first year at university saying she wants to change courses from law to a decidedly non-vocational humanities subject. She has not enjoyed her first year – certainly it has been very unlike the freewheeling, hedonistic and at least partly state-funded student experience her mother and I enjoyed in the 1980s – and the change would be more in line with her interests, though she seems to have coped well academically.

The problem is financial. She is living on student loans, topped up by us. If she needs to do any postgraduate study, or train in a different discipline, after her first degree, we can continue to support her as long as we’re both working, but we were hoping to dial back our work commitments and travel more etc.

We hate the thought of her embarking on adult life saddled with debt, and we feel distinctly embarrassed at the relative freedoms we enjoyed at her age. It’s just that with the way things are, we don’t think this is the right course for her. We’d love to say ‘follow your dreams’, but it seems the only young people who get to do that are backed up with more parental financial muscle than we can muster. Should we challenge her plan, or show support and undertake to muddle through a longer and costlier process together – possibly putting our own dreams on hold until we’re too old to realise them?

— H and R, via

Dear H and R,

It’s pretty pointless comparing your own halcyon student days with your daughter’s. Sorry to use the hackneyed phrase, but we are where we are. As it happens, I agree with you about student loans. Saddling young people with such a burden of debt seems unnecessarily harsh. But it’s today’s reality. So, back to your dilemma.

It seems to me you’re crossing quite a few bridges before you’ve even come to them. Obviously you’re right to consider all the possible consequences of your daughter switching courses, but you don’t know what that will entail. Yet you’re jumping to all the negative conclusions. Will she definitely need to do postgrad study? Or train in a different discipline? You simply don’t know yet. But if there are extra costs, couldn’t she do what many students do and take a part-time job?

Speaking as a parent, I think the overriding concern here is your daughter’s happiness. If she’s miserable after a year studying law, why consign her to two more? She’s given it long enough to know her mind. (My own daughter hated her degree course after the equivalent of one term, and my wife and I don’t have the smallest regret about allowing her to bail out, come home and strike out on a career of her choosing; she’s never looked back.) My advice is to spend the summer talking through the options with your daughter, for her and for you. Form a clear plan between you; a road map for the next two or three years. Be honest about your retirement plans and finances. Trust her. Work together. You’re intelligent people. You’ll come up with a good compromise. I don’t have a degree of doubt about it.