When Choosing a Major is a ‘Major’ Decision

I thought I had it all figured out when I was growing up. I had decided around fourth grade to be an elementary school teacher and didn’t waver until it was time to start college. I couldn’t admit to myself, never mind others, that I no longer wanted to teach, thinking that because I had made a decision, I needed to stick with it. So when I started college, I felt the pressure to have a major before classes even began. As far as I could tell, everyone had a major, and no one changed their minds or was Exploratory.

During opening weekend, I went through all the majors in my head and chose one (there were only 17 to pick from). I started with Psychology but could not stomach the idea of experimenting with rats; then I considered English but thought the only job I could get as an English major was to be a teacher, and I’d ruled that out. Finally, I declared Business, specifically marketing, because both of my parents were in sales, and I liked the idea of advertising. Once I made up my mind, I declared my major.

Given I am not an impulsive person by nature, that should have been my first clue that I made a bad decision. However, I felt so much pressure, real or otherwise, to have a major and stick with it, I didn’t let myself truly explore other options and as a result, found myself unhappy and not doing as well in my classes as I knew I could. Where I excelled and felt the most connection though, were in clubs and organizations, as well as with my campus jobs.

Over the next few years, I stuck with my classes, earning a respectable GPA, but not investing in my classes; there is only one that I remember loving – Business Writing. In fact, one assignment was to write three versions of a resume; it was a clue that I completely missed. Only after spending time abroad in my junior year, where I just took classes and didn’t join any clubs, that I finally admitted to myself that I was unhappy with my academic decision. This time though, the stakes were higher, as I had three years invested into my education at a private college.

Entering my senior year, I decided that since I no longer had any idea of what to do after graduation, I should go to graduate school. Of course, that is the absolute wrong reason to decide on a graduate school, but I was so lost on what type of work I would do, I chose graduate school so I could say I was doing something productive with my life, could tell my folks I had a decision, etc. In searching for a program, I happened upon ones where I could get a master’s in higher education, focusing on student affairs. This was such a revelation – I could get paid to do work I absolutely loved while learning about colleges as an industry in and of itself. I would be an educator, just not a teacher. It was a great match.

Finally, in graduate school, I liked my classes (except statistics), found I had much in common with classmates, and was a GA for Residence Life. It was an excellent fit and set me up for success, finding work in a field I never even heard of growing up. Ironically enough, when I gravitated to Education as a youth, I was on the right path but not necessarily with a clear enough destination. Once I was honest with myself, albeit a bit later than perhaps was ideal, about my major and career options, I was in a better place to be open to new ideas and possibilities. And now, decades into my career, I can see all the ways being a marketing major was an asset in the way I viewed language and ideas; I also met my closest college friend through my classes, and I wouldn’t trade that friendship for anything.

At UConn, there are a plethora of opportunities and options available to students who are considering their majors or careers, to do some self-exploration and/or meet with someone to help guide them. Being honest with oneself is the best gift you can give yourself, and I encourage you to reach out to a career coach or other trusted individual, as you navigate this world of uncertainty and exploration. Choosing a major and/or a career can be daunting or exciting or possibly both simultaneously. Sometimes we have to be a little lost before we realize what direction we are meant to go. Feel free to email me if you’d like to share your story and figure out your next step.

photo credit: Photo by Ralph (Ravi) Kayden on Unsplash