growing in the gray book cover
Illustration by Shannon Czerpak, University of the Arts

Take Control of Your Career: Advice From a College Graduate

When it comes to following your dreams, author Christian Cook shows that it’s never too late to change your mind.

College /// Pages x
growing in the gray book cover
Illustration by Shannon Czerpak, University of the Arts

When it comes to following your dreams, author Christian Cook shows that it’s never too late to change your mind.

The only constant in college is change. From graduating high school to moving away from home, college proves again and again that nothing can last forever. Yet, students still resist change. Like a tornado rips a house from its foundation, change can reshape an entire life — and that scares many people. Rather than allow college to transform their lives, many students fear deviation as they would a natural disaster. But sometimes, a little bit of change is precisely what they need.

The best way to jumpstart your career is to start planning for it in college. If you want to work in architecture, take a design class; if you want to be a musician, take music theory. Thousands of college students a semester tough it out in classes they don’t like because they think they have to. While it may be normal to dislike a few cores and general education courses, hating an entire semester’s worth of classes is not ideal. If you find yourself trapped in a schedule that doesn’t feel right to you, it might be time to make a change.

Take control of your life by changing your major. There’s a reason that over 80% of college students switch majors at least once: Sometimes, change is necessary to grow. 

Advice From College Graduate Christian Cook

Christian Cook, an author and college graduate working in Chicago, is one of the 80% of students to change their major. Leaving behind a major in journalism to pursue work in marketing and public relations (PR), she opens up about her experience with change in an exclusive interview with Study Breaks. 

“If I stayed on the path that was presented to me, I would’ve been unfulfilled,” Cook says about her time in college. “Experimentation was fun, and sometimes it wasn’t, but without it, I would have never been able to decipher between what I liked, didn’t like, and where I wanted to take time to grow.”

From a young age, Cook knew she wanted to tell stories for the rest of her life, and she decided becoming a writer was the only way to do it. So, in 2014, she enrolled in Columbia College Chicago to pursue a bachelor’s degree in journalism. At a small arts school in one of the most creative districts of downtown Chicago, Cook expected to graduate four years later, ready to start her life as a writer. But, as she would soon find out, things were about to change.

Change Is a Good Thing

As a part of her degree plan, Cook took a marketing course in consumer behavior. She didn’t go into the class with many expectations; this was just a required course. But change likes to strike when least expected. What started as just another class became something so much more.

“Consumer behavior was my favorite course I took,” Cook explains. “I loved learning about the entire process of how to fully engage audiences through language, images, and all of your senses.” It was a life-changing class for her that would go on to inspire a life-changing decision. 

Cook’s career plan changed. Her “entry point to branding” consumer behavior introduced Cook to the marketing world. After completing the course, she left journalism behind, changing her major to focus on PR. In 2019, Cook graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communication.

Since leaving college, Cook has worked for award-winning communications and social media organizations like Porter Novelli and Leadtail. In each experience, her passion for PR grows, as does her skill. Three years later, Cook still credits consumer behavior for the change, saying it “opened my eyes to all the other ways you can use language to tell stories.”

Is Changing Majors the Right Decision For You? 

But not every student has a success story. Changing majors — let alone changing career paths — can be a scary decision for people to make because it can go so wrong. After putting so much effort into one field, it’s intimidating for students to think of starting over again. But changing majors doesn’t have to be a total reset. When Cook transitioned from journalism to PR, she didn’t stop wanting to become a writer. Instead, she found a new way to tell stories. 

When asked about the practicality of switching majors, Cook says, “I wrote for every job I ever had.” Her journalism experience did not become void, as some students fear of their dropped majors. Instead, Cook found a new way to apply her previously learned skills. “Marketing and PR are tools to promote products, create a brand reputation, and resonate with their audiences. The best way to do that is by storytelling.” And lucky for this college graduate, storytelling is one of Cook’s specialties.

 But, while changing majors can be the right decision, it shouldn’t be a light decision.

“I wouldn’t change majors until you have an aha moment,” Cook says, “that moment where your brain and heart align to jump to your calling.” College students often confuse frustration with dissatisfaction, causing them to abandon the right major for them mistakenly. When starting out in a degree plan, “Try to think about it more as a learning experience instead of a long-term career,” Cook recommends. By waiting, you’ll gain helpful experience for your career and avoid making a hasty and potentially poor decision.

Taking Chances Pays Off  

But for Cook and thousands of college students like her, changing majors is the right decision. Abandoning a mediocre degree program in favor of something about which students are passionate can lead to a life full of professional satisfaction. If you don’t take Cook’s word for it, take her character’s. 

“Growing in the Gray,” a novel by Cook, follows the story of Krista Clark, a student entering college in the middle of a family financial crisis. Like students who change their majors, Krista’s college experience is very different than what she imagined. Set in the city of Chicago, “Growing in the Gray” combines the struggles of leaving home, making new friends, and navigating a brand new town in a college coming-of-age tale. “She is introduced to adulthood a bit earlier than most,” shares Cook’s main character, “So she’s forced to grow up quicker than she expected.” Though Krista doesn’t deal with the pressures of planning a career, her narrative is all too familiar to students who do.

“My college experiences are what inspired me to write this story,” reveals Cook about her book. Drawing on her struggles, stresses and successes, Cook creates a world familiar to college-aged readers. And though it may represent the hardships students must face in their time away from home, it also inspires hope for the college experience. When asked what advice she would give current students, her character, and her younger self, Cook says, “You’re going to get a lot of things that you want, but it’ll never be in the way you anticipated.”

 “Growing in the Gray” was released on Sept. 6 and is available for purchase now. 

Writer Profile

Aunna Beranek

Columbia College Chicago
English, Minor in Creative Writing (Fiction Concentration)

An aspiring writer and editor trying to figure out how to build a career out of crying in the dark over fictional characters.

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