As I’ve grown accustomed to the routines and habits of in-person college life, I have quickly acclimated myself to the standard form of greeting on campus: “Oh hey what’s your name? … Yeah, nice to meet you, what’re you studying? … Yo that’s sick!” A script to recite, nearly verbatim, 10 times a day or more. Although easy enough to plod through, each time I am confronted with this call-and-response, I am stopped dead in my tracks at the second question: What is your major? I ask myself if I should go with the safe answer and say computer science, throw out a passion that I may not be able to realize and claim writing, be wishy-washy and tell them I’m undecided, or ramble on about how it’s all of the above and I’m just trying to figure life out as I go.
No matter which way I choose, I feel stuck, cornered in between a dozen different choices of fields, careers, majors and departments, paralyzed by the enormity of the decisions ahead. Although the angst of decision-making feels intensely personal when one is trapped within it, this stress and uncertainty exists for the majority of college students, and despite feeling like a pressure cooker at times, it can, and should, be reframed as an opportunity for exploration and chance to find joy in unexpected places.
Through high school, I was a “STEM kid,” excelling in math and science far more than the humanities, pushing myself to take harder and harder math courses while still being unable to write a coherent essay. Thinking that the sciences were my path through college, I took chemistry my first semester, considering pre-med track. Two weeks and one test in, I dropped it, realizing that between introductory computer science, literature and writing courses, I had more than enough coursework I was enjoying, and chemistry was only bogging me down both academically (yes — I failed that first exam) and emotionally.
Although it took another semester of physics and linear algebra to fully convince myself that the hard sciences weren’t my passion, the realization that the world was much, much wider than chemistry, biology and physics was profound, and the opportunity it gave me to choose classes that I truly wanted to pursue, namely writing and computer science, was incredible.
Despite the headaches associated with scrapping a four-year academic plan and the feeling that one suffered through intro classes for nothing, it has been reported that 80% of college students will, at one point in their educational career, change their major — a huge number, but one that still fails to account for students like me who enter their university with a career path in mind, but quickly find a passion for other fields semesters before their major declaration date. This magic-number statistic is so commonly cited that at times it becomes numbing, but the fact that almost every single college student changes their field of study or major is astonishing and, in a very real sense, reassuring.
Telling classmates, even as a sophomore, that I still haven’t decided what field I plan to pursue can be terrifying, not just because it’s not a straightforward answer, but also because it reinforces my own consciousness of the fact that I haven’t planned out my next two years of classes, haven’t started learning the ins and outs of career searching, and haven’t even considered graduate education. Despite the fears for my future, indecision can not only prove itself valuable by giving me time to find a path I truly want to pursue, but also normal — common for the majority of students in American universities, even if the atmosphere of a college campus doesn’t always feel that way.
Beyond the reality of changing fields in college, it is also important to realize that a certain college degree doesn’t mean your career is permanently set. It has been cited that 29% of people switch their field of work after college, meaning that almost a third of people don’t even stick to the job they spent four years of college studying for. The creeping feeling that each course I register for forces me further into a box I’m not even sure I will fit in is real, but doesn’t have to be a self-fulfilling prophecy if I don’t make it one. In the end, an enormous portion of the stress of major declaration is due to the consciousness of the possibilities.
Although I may be interested in my classes now, what if I’m missing out on my calling? What if, in fulfilling requirements, we are all overlooking the class that would turn us from future doctors to writers, or make budding photographers become physicists? Not only does this not have to be true in the sense that we can expand outside of the traditional bounds of majors and programs (yes, it is acceptable to take the class that sounds cool but may or may not fit your four-year plan) but it also doesn’t have to be true in that finding passions is the project of a lifetime.
In third grade, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: a mechanical engineer building machines and fabricating robots. A part of that has stayed with me to this day; I spend hours at a time wrenching on bikes and teaching myself to weld, but that dream has come and gone, as have many others. Right now, I plan on majoring in writing and computer science, but as many aspirations have, these may either pan out or fade. I am nowhere near the same person I was two years ago, and in many ways, I will probably look back two years from now and wonder at how I changed so much during another pair of rotations around the sun.
Despite the pressing stress of internship recruiting, club applications and class registration, even if these moments are the most momentous and career-defining occurrences of my life thus far, they will simply be one of many events and experiences that will inform the decisions I make for the rest of my life.