Entering college is overwhelming, and underclassmen often feel a lot of pressure to make a speedy decision on what career they would like to pursue. On top of the time constraints, many students often face pressure from their families to choose a “good” career path that will likely lead to future financial security, as well as from their professors to feel passion for the field or subject. But being stuck with a career you hate and/or switching majors halfway through a degree is worse than some slight disappointment from the people in your life.
All these factors often lead students to choose a path whose title sounds impressive and pleases their parents: pre-med, pre-law, economics, engineering, computer science, math and anything else that typically comes with a high paying salary. For some, they choose these bright shiny paths and thrive. However, for others, like me, the pressure to choose one of these paths often leads to one — if not several — wrong choices that end up hurting you in the long run.
So, here’s my advice, from one student to another, as someone who switched majors, not once, not twice, but three times.
The Pre-Med Phase
Entering my freshman year of college, I had every intention of choosing the major of every parent’s dream — pre-med. I would be lying if I didn’t say a large factor that lead to my “dream” of becoming a surgeon was the glamor portrayed on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” but I obviously denied that truth at the time, making claims about my “passions” or something. Little did I know that this “dream” would be so quickly ditched after a few weeks of my first introductory course in biology.
My rash decision to be pre-med was the first in a chain of mistakes surrounding what I want to be when I grow up, and it stemmed from a desire to have a glamorous, impressive, well-paying job. Basically, I was trying to do what (in my mind) I was supposed to do, and that is never a good reason to do anything in life.
In hindsight, I know I made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons, and I urge any student in my previous position to think twice (or more) before making any definitive choice for a major. Are you truly passionate about the subject? Would you still choose it if it didn’t ensure a six-figure salary? Do you enjoy the classes? Is there a subject you enjoy more?
I never asked myself these questions, and I wish someone had. No one ever thinks pre-med is a wrong decision because it is so often seen as the perfect choice. Don’t choose a major for your parents or for financial reasons. Follow the passion that burns deep inside you, even if you never thought of it as a possibility. Switching majors in order to find what motivates you and, ultimately, makes you happy isn’t a life-ending decision. Trust me, your parents will get over it, and everything will be okay.
The “Woman in STEM” phase
Once I discovered that biology and I do not get along, and that the idea of medical school sounded like my own living hell, I desperately searched for another major, and in my mind, that major had to fall within the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) category. My first-time switching majors led to math.
To what career would math lead me? I had no clue. All I knew is that being a woman in STEM is supposed to be the right thing to do in this day and age, and being the avid feminist I am, I wanted to enter a field that has always been dominated by men. This decision led to my enrolling in Calculus 3, and I had no clue that the moment I chose that class would mark the worst decision I had ever made for my GPA and mental health.
Not only did I almost fail the class (I still don’t know how I pulled a C-minus), but I also came out of it having learned nothing but the fact that math is not my strong suit, nor do I enjoy it.
Don’t get me wrong, I know plenty of women who are thriving as math majors, but there is one big difference between them and me. They do math because they love it. I did math to say, “Take that, patriarchy” and because I couldn’t think of anything else.
Alongside Calculus 3, I also took Abnormal Psychology, or psychopathology. My whole life, I had been told that majoring in psychology would only lead to a teaching career, which I did not want to do (I guess I never thought about therapists and psychiatrists). So, this class was only supposed to be for fun. However, my introduction to the Davidson College psychology department completely blew my mind.
Apparently, I knew nothing about the field of psychology, the endless branches or extremely cool psychological research that is happening right now. I was so hypnotized by the glamor of psychological research that I quickly decided it was what I wanted to do with my life and I would not change my mind again (really, I believed myself). So, I found myself switching majors again.
My mistake with psychology is that I decided to declare the major after only taking one class. Granted, I had chosen it based off my initial spark of interest. Tip: Just because you think something is “cool” doesn’t mean you should, or want to, do it for the rest of your life. The initial glamor of psychology did wear off quickly, and halfway through my sophomore year, I was left terrified I would have to stick with a major and career path I didn’t enjoy or want to follow.
I wish that while I was in this STEM phase that someone had shaken me and asked if I really enjoyed it. But I can’t rely on others to fix my problems, and I learned the hard way that rash decisions are not always smart.
Like I said before, my biggest piece of advice is to really think about the paths you are considering and what will lead to true, inner happiness. In choosing my college major and career goals, I wasn’t following my passions. I was searching for external validation and trying to prove my intelligence and ambition. It took a lot of soul searching to finally give into my love for the humanities.
The Right (and Difficult) Choice for Me
I don’t know why I have always tried to stray as far as possible from the humanities. English, history, sociology, anthropology — never in my life did I imagine those four subjects would become my favorites. But I couldn’t run from them forever. My sophomore spring, these fields of study finally caught up with me, and I am so glad they did. Once again I was switching majors, but this time it was for good.
That spring semester, I decided to add world literature and an anthropology class called Love, Sex and Globalization to my schedule to see if English and/or gender and sexual studies (GSS) was something I was interested in pursuing.
I had already taken the introductory class for the English major, as well as another class in the GSS realm and enjoyed both but viewed them as non-serious classes that I was just taking for fun. I have loved reading and writing for my entire life, and both have always come relatively easily for me. Yet, my passions were clouded by my need to prove something, to do what I viewed as “the best.”
It wasn’t until my mom convinced me that “fun” might be the actual right path for me that I leapt into the field of humanities. Once I did, I became an entirely different student. I stopped dreading class and assignments and became eager to do my readings, to write my papers and to discuss my thoughts in class. I finally loved school again, and I couldn’t be happier.
Sometimes, what you enjoy feels like a hobby, and it’s scary to try to transform that hobby into a career or life goal. My biggest advice is to do what you love. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. Keep experimenting, keep searching, keep switching majors, and trust me, it will all be worth it. All it takes is a leap of faith.