When meeting someone for the first time in college, there seems to be a general script for starting conversation. After the first couple minutes of talking to someone, the question will likely come up: What’s your major? It is a label, almost a characteristic of a person. A single choice will determine everything from classes to friend groups to future career plans, so the pressure is on to make a choice you won’t regret. I’m going to be honest, that’s how I saw it at first. I came in undecided, or “exploratory,” as my university calls it. The name makes it seem more like I was just exploring my options rather than caught in a battle between practicality and passion to find a label that would best fit me. This process would have been a lot more difficult if it hadn't been for supportive advisors, family members, and friends. They helped bring me to many key realizations that made me feel more confident in my decision. So, if you’re currently going through the same battle, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Your major does not equal your career. This one actually came as a shock to me. I thought I had to decide at the age of eighteen what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. In reality, many employers won’t pay close attention to your major unless it is specified by the application or if the field requires specific qualifications (a medical degree, for example). Philosophy majors aren’t aiming to be the next Aristotle, and not all English majors even have book publishing on their radar. Majors like these that have no direct answer for career path can be treated like an open-ended question.
- Take time to get experience with what you’re interested in.
This one is super important, because, although major does not equal career, experience definitely segue way into potential opportunities in the future. Internships and jobs help to simulate that environment and give you an experimental testing ground to decide whether or not you can see yourself pursuing a career in this field.
- Take advantage of all possible connections. Whether these are classmates, upperclassmen, professors, employers, each person can be a resource. If there is anyone pursuing a similar path as you or has been in your shoes, don’t hesitate to reach out. They might have a perspective you never thought of before. One of my classes actually required me to do this, and I think it really helped me see that most people are happy to mentor you through this process.
- Do Research.
Some majors are limited access or require an application or a certain minimum GPA. Keep a running list of possibilities and due dates for these. One activity that helped me was just looking at a list of all possible college majors and crossing off all the ones I could not see myself doing. I circled the ones that interested me most from the remaining list and went from there.
- Realize that your plans are not set in stone You might change your major multiple times. I heard that from several people, who started on a path for their first years of college and realized they had no passion for it. I was determined to avoid that and figure it out at the forefront, but it still took the entirety of my first semester to solidify my choice. And I still don’t have a concrete plan for after I graduate. It’s definitely a process of realizing you don’t have to have it all determined right now. What we want for ourselves in this stage might not align with what we need in the future.
- College is not only about preparing you for the workforce. I’m also guilty of thinking this. I get caught up in career searches, stressing over whether I am using my time in college well. But ultimately, this is a period of self and social development on top of academics. It’s a time when independence is thrust upon us, and we discover the kind of people we are and who we want to be. Our brains are still developing, and they will be until years after most of us graduate. If we are afraid of being trapped in the major we choose and have no sense of direction, it is in our power to reach out to people who can help us, both on an academic and personal level. I still have doubts about my future career plans, but the more classes I take, the more confident I am in my major. However, these realizations did not come in isolation, just as we are not in isolation through this entire college process. Ultimately, life is more than a script of high school… college... career...life, all in a single file line across the page. It is the moments in between, the ones we decide for ourselves, that matter. So, choosing a major does not mean limiting ourselves to an expectation or single set path. It is just another avenue to explore ourselves and connect us to future possibilities.