Maria Makeever, Intern for IBJ
When I was a senior in high school, my mom lovingly set me up with a career counselor to help me decide what I wanted to study in college. I had no idea what I wanted to study, and the idea that I had to decide for future me what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life was, well, a bit daunting. After taking a long aptitudes-and-interests quiz, I listened as the counselor explained to me which careers and colleges would be best suited for me. Ultimately, as someone who loves to learn, there were few things outside my range of interest. However, high school me was super rational. It wasn’t just about which career or field of study would make me the happiest. Instead, I focused on all the other details. Which college would leave me with the least amount of debt? Which major had the best chance of getting me a job when I graduated? How far away was I willing to go for college? I focused on all these things because I was avoiding the very real decision of deciding what I wanted to study for the next four years.
Having said all that, here is my advice to incoming college students: don’t let the auxiliary details distract or dissuade you from studying what you want. The fact is, around 75 percent of college students change their major at least once, and 20 to 50 percent of students come in as “undecided” in the first place.
The first point I want to make is that stressing out over all the details will never work in your favor. Let me explain. Like I said, before I got to college, I spent more time worrying about loans, job security, and finances than any 17-year-old ever should. I’m not trying to say that these things aren’t important. But if I’ve learned anything since coming to college, I can say without a doubt that you shouldn’t let those things stand in your way. Work hard, get involved, network, seek career experiences – these things won’t guarantee anyone a job but they sure can’t hurt. Also, be innovative – we are living in a world where entrepreneurship and self-employment are viable options for those with creative and hardworking spirits. But the most important thing is that at the end of the day, if you’re studying something you enjoy, everything just seems a little less scary. Loans will be paid back someday and jobs will come and go, so don’t chicken out and choose the most “rational” major. Who do you see yourself being someday? Pick the major that will help you get there.
The second point I want to make is that there is no shame in taking a little extra time to decide what you want to study. There is also no shame in studying something for a semester or a year and then deciding it isn’t what you want to study. I myself started college studying a major revolving around tourism and event management. I spent a year in that major. At the end of the year, I knew it wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy going to classes and I was never happy about my school schedule. Even though the subjects still interested me, I knew that I would enjoy studying other subjects better. College has this strange way of putting everything into perspective. As a high school student, I could never have imagined how much my priorities and interests would change within the span of a year. Once I finally switched to journalism, I knew I was in a major better suited for me. When I looked at my upcoming class schedules, I got excited and giddy thinking about the classes I would get to take. Don’t stress about ‘wasting’ your time in a major or ‘wasting’ money on courses. As long as you’ve learned something (either about a subject or about yourself), none of it was a waste.
There’s an old proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is now.” I urge you to plant your tree now. Explore the things you love now and you may have a better idea of what you want to study once you’re making college decisions. And when you feel like it’s too late to try something new or start over – it’s not. Keep planting trees. Keep exploring and learning and growing, and you just might thank yourself 20 years from now.