qa What can you say to help parents whose child has decided to change college and/or direction, with particular emphasis on a sport?

One son completed his college in the prescribed time. This other one will have to go to school a year or so longer if he changes. He's a lovely young man (with an incredibly messy room!) who is putting his athletic interests above his scholastic ones.

How long do we fund his education beyond the normal four years of college? How much financial support should we give? (His coaches think he shouldn't hold a job because it would interfere with practice.) And should we provide a car?

Each child has different abilities needs. You can't expect two people -- even brothers -- to fit the same mold or want the same things out of life nor can you impose your goals on their dreams.

A strong interest in sports might seem self-indulgent but unless you think your son is trying to avoid or delay his ultimate encounter with the real world, he deserves the same backing that you would give if he chose law or medicine.

Generally, it's best to let a young person find his own way. Although his decision has surprised and upset you, it may have surprised him, too. It also may be one of a series of changes. Young people are often drawn almost magnetically to a certain interest -- sports or history or carpentry or graphics or any challenging field -- because they find more joy in that interest than in anything else and because they instinctively do it well. When there's nothing new to learn they may then move on to something else. This is not a waste.

Your son's interest in a particular sport isn't frivolous, even though it may not be traditional in your family. Sports can be one of the most productive preoccupations a young person can choose. In a responsible college, he will be required to maintain decent grades in all his classes so he can stay on the team. He will also learn how to give 110 percent, how to produce under pressure and how to work well with others. College can give your son no greater lessons than these, for they will become the standard of excellence he'll use in all future jobs, whether they're in sports or not.

Whatever college career your son chooses is his business, as long as it's honorable. Whether you pay for its preparation, however, is yours. Your own finances are the main consideration.

If you do agree to pay for an added year or two, however, do it with grace and good will. Your son needs as much psychological support as he can get and whatever financial support you can afford.

If the tuition is a heavy burden or you think you may be pampering him or that this son is getting more than his share, you can have him sign an agreement to pay you back for the extra schooling on a monthly basis, interest-free, starting a year after he finishes college. You also can make this arrangement about the car.

Even though the coaches don't want your son to work, he still has responsibilities.

You should expect him to pay room and board when he's at home, not in money but in service: keep his room clean, do his own laundry and some regular chores and maybe cook one or two family meals a week or paint an occasional room.

And there are some summer jobs a college athlete might fill. Your son could combine his own training with a coaching job at a summer camp -- most coaches will use their camp connections to help students with financial need -- or start a summertime coaching program for neighborhood children. Some of the best jobs are the ones we create for ourselves.

Your son wants to decide on a college career for himself and he should, but he'll also have to take on the responsibilities that come with it. And if you treat him like an adult, he will.